Independence Day 2016

The Fourth of July is always one of my favorite festive days! We have so much to be thankful for, and it is good to remember and reflect on the blessings our nation has enjoyed since the first colonies were established 400 years ago.IMG_7749In 1620, the Mayflower Compact was signed by 41 men, Separatists and Strangers,  declaring their resolution to work together in the New World.  The Strangers were adventurers and soldiers, but the Separatists were Protestant men and women and children who were seeking a greater degree of religious freedom, out from under the authority and tyranny of the state-run Anglican church. Their agreement read:

“Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia…”

For the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith! And we are still reaping the rewards of that charter today. Independence Day isn’t just about the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. Independence Day is about our heritage of freedom, particularly our heritage of religious freedom and freedom of conscience, our heritage of heroism and bravery and virtue. Independence Day is about the Pilgrims and their blood, sweat, and tears, shed for “for the Glory of God”. Independence Day is about the glories and tragedies of the American Revolution, which was successful following national submission and repentance and fasting before God.  Independence Day is about “In God We Trust,” and “one Nation under God.” Independence Day is about love for a nation that was founded by men who adhered to the principles that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Independence Day is about Samuel Adams’ words on the day the Declaration was signed: “We have this day restored the Sovereign to Whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in Heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come.” Independence Day is about men like George Washington, who believed that “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” Independence Day is about John 8:36: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Independence Day is about the freedom to teach that to our children, to proclaim the truth of freedom in Christ to our families and friends and to total strangers.
Stockade LakeSo what better way to spend Independence Day than with family and friends, enjoying the freedom to assemble with our brothers and sisters of the faith?
Stockade LakeStockade Lake was bustling activity yesterday afternoon, tourists and locals camping and boating and enjoying the beauty of the Black Hills. The beaches were overrun with festive crowds, but our friends had managed to snag a pavilion earlier in the day, so we had a corner of the lake to ourselves.
Osprey over Stockade LakeWe enjoyed osprey and herons and ducks, and very few bothersome insects since it has been so dry. Trixie came with us, of course, and I think she met her match for energy in our friends’ youngest two. Calvin and Laurel couldn’t get enough of her, and I think she liked the attention. After all, they were just about her size!
Stockade LakeIMG_7578The kids swam in the lake, and Sarah brought her kayaks, much to the delight of the boys, so after dinner they hauled the kayaks down to the lake and were pretty much gone for a couple of hours. We all visited and shared good food and fellowship, and were showered on by a little thunderburst that came our way briefly. The storm didn’t last long, and the cool evening wound down to dusk.
IMG_7770Those of us who didn’t mind getting home late headed over to our pastor’s house to watch the Custer fireworks from his family’s backyard. They have a great view of the show, and it seemed like about half our church converged on their home for the evening! Our church is pretty geographically separated, many of us traveling 45 minutes or more to get to church. So those opportunities we have midweek to see one another, to see our brothers and sisters, are cherished dearly. We were treated not only to the fireworks, but also to beautiful lightning from another storm that slowly closed in. We were close enough to still feel the resonating explosions, the far enough away to be able to keep up our conversations. It was fun to hear the burst of applause from the whole town of Custer after the last flares of the finale. Custer’s fireworks are simple in comparison with what other larger towns can afford, but they are no less enjoyed.
IMG_7786We watched the traffic streaming out of town, and then it slowed to a trickle. The noises of the crowd down in Custer quieted. The lightning was flickering and flashing, closer now. Then the rain started gently. It was a good day. We have so much to be thankful for.

Laura Elizabeth





First Things of Spring

IMG_8733The drive to church on Sunday mornings is a joy, particularly on mornings like this morning, when the ponderosa pines are heavy with recent snow, the hillsides silver with it, and the birches and aspens grey in comparison with it. But this morning was even better, because it is Resurrection Day! What a glorious day to celebrate – We as Christians may have some pretty “radical” social ideas, as we are daily reminded. But, as our pastor reminded us this morning, the most radical belief of all is that Christ, God incarnate, perfect and sinless, came to this earth to die a horrendous death for the sins of the world so that sinful humanity would have a way to enjoy a right relationship with God Almighty. He was buried, and was raised from the dead three days later. And, if that wasn’t enough, He, in the sight of His disciples, was caught up into the sky and then disappeared from sight. And, if that isn’t enough to believe, we believe that He is reigning now, interceding for those who love and follow Him. Amazing? Yes. Beyond our comprehension? Yes. Wonderful? Yes! To be free from the enslaving nature of sin, to be made right before a just and holy God? What a reason to celebrate! IMG_8716And what more beautiful day could we have asked for? After a joy-filled Sunday message, spirited singing, and a feast of a potluck, the family and I, along with Roy and Isaak, headed down to the Pringle property for an afternoon of hiking and exploring. This whole last week was rather hit-and-miss as far as springtime weather was concerned. Snow on Wednesday, slush and snow on Friday, but today was a little piece of Heaven. We stomped along in the mud and the snow and the grassy stubble, but jackets quickly came off, shirt sleeves were rolled up, and the snow sank away. The juniper was fragrant in the warmth of the sun, the grasshoppers chirruped in the grass and flew about wildly, and the earliest prairie wildflowers peered up from the red dirt, low-growing and unobtrusive, almost invisible in the scrubby grasses.IMG_8775A few elusive pasque flowers we found tucked away on warm hillsides, growing lustily in the rocky soil – In a few days, they’ll be open and lovely. There is a story of hundreds of pasque flowers having been found down on the Pringle place, but we didn’t come across more than half a dozen today. Maybe another trip. The earliest messengers of springtime. Such a delicate little flower.

IMG_8728The sun was warm on our backs, warm on our faces, as we wandered this way and that. Deer in the distance fled, but a loner antelope watched curiously as we passed him by. The hundred-year-old rose hedge was beginning to leaf out near the old stage stop dugout. We have plans to bring back a clump of the yellow roses sometime this spring, to plant near the Miner’s Cabin.

IMG_8755There were no rattlesnakes in the dugout this time, like there were when we hiked around in August, so we poked around the area a little more thoroughly. Our rambling took us down into the Box Canyon – Moss grew greenly in the wet and cool of the canyon, and remains of cliff swallow nests clung tenaciously to the walls – The original cliff dwellings. No swallows nesting there yet, but I’ll bet they’ll be back.  We clambered up out the box end of the canyon. A great little scramble that was, with ice and mud underfoot and very little tread on some of our shoes, always in the process of nearly taking out whoever was unwise enough to be behind us, getting covered in sand burrs, and thoroughly enjoying every minute of it.
IMG_8747It is a season of new life. Resurrection Day is a day to celebrate new spiritual life in Christ and His glorious resurrection. And what better way to spend a Resurrection Day than to be among family and friends and immersed in one of God’s greatest witnesses, His glorious Creation! The first days of springtime mark the beginning of the end of winter, the coming of that new life we all wait expectantly for, as soon as that first fleeting 50 degree day happens.  These first things of springtime, in the first days of springtime, are shy and aloof and evasive. But that won’t last forever – Before too long, the prairies will be covered with wildflowers, bursting at the seams with things alive and green and new. Springtime is here!

Laura Elizabeth

The Best Day of the Week

IMG_8518Sunday mornings tend to be a little hectic – Five of us on a Sunday morning in a cabin with one bathroom is a recipe for hurry and a few ruffled feathers. But in the midst of the hurry, there can be delightful moments, like catching sight of the deer on the dam as the sun is coming over the rim of our ridge, watching early-morning birds, or laughing at the kittens’ antics. There is the smell of coffee and eggs and oatmeal, and the bustle of activity. We’re all glad when we finally get out the door and miraculously are on time,  and any ruffled feathers have a chance to smooth before getting to church.

IMG_8528I left early this morning, early enough to enjoy a leisurely drive past Mount Rushmore and the scenic vistas along Hwy. 244. So much beauty, and the play of early morning light through the leafless trees was captivating. Sometimes it is hard to be a safe driver when the views are so lovely. The sky was crystal clear, and the profile view of the Monument was postcard-worthy. Couldn’t resist stopping. It is mornings like this that leave me breathless with wonder at a God who is so good that He, in His own good time, brought me to the place I love most on earth. What a trivial matter, on the one hand, and yet He worked it beautifully.

IMG_8689My gratitude is deepened when I think of my church family, and when I spend a morning and a meal in worship and fellowship and teaching – The closeness and intimacy and joy that we each share with one another leaves me filled to overflowing with gratitude. The conversations these brothers and sisters of mine desire to have with one another, the desire for openness, the desire to impact, the desire to bless, to convict and be convicted, to strengthen, to confess, to love…It has given me a beautiful perspective of what Christian relationships should and can be, and what it means to “be Christ” to one another.

IMG_8587Sarah and I took a scenic detour home after church. Since pretty much any route around here is “scenic,” what made this one scenic is that it took about 2 hours longer than normal, since we decided to drive the Custer Wildlife Loop. We stopped at Common Cents, got fuel, coffee, and a box of Saltines to feed the burros, and headed out of town. The prairie dogs were, as always, quite obliging. The fat little rodents squeaked and scurried and scampered, and one little pudgy guy let me get pretty close.

IMG_8671We watched and watched for the burros, and any other creatures of the prairie and foothills. A couple of herds of buffalo were right up by the road, licking salt off of vehicles as they went by. Such majestic creatures. When they are grazing so quietly, it is hard to reconcile their gentle appearance with their intense power and capacity for aggression.

IMG_8677Spending time in the wonder of God’s creation always drives me deeper into the conviction that none of this was an accident, but Divinely ordered. The uniqueness and distinctness, the quirky and delightful personalities of each individual animal, from Luna the Grey Cat who likes to watch the world from his seat on the lawnmower, to this shy doe who stared timidly as we drove past her on the road…Each animal, each plant, each rock and hill, bears the fingerprints of a Creator. I can’t but believe that.

IMG_8741We saw a handful of antelope, which tend to be pretty reserved creatures, but we saw no burros. We looked and looked, and even drove a short ways down a few side roads, but saw nor hide nor hair of the little beasties. It was rather disappointing. So, since there were no burros to eat the package of Saltines, Sarah and I ate them.

We got home as it was just beginning to be evening. A morning spent in worship and fellowship, and an afternoon spent in awe and sisterhood…What could be better?

Hands down, Sunday is the best day of the week.

Laura Elizabeth

Gingerbread Houses

IMG_5759.1lowrezAfter a morning of cleaning the church with Roy, Anna and I went over to make gingerbread houses with Hannah and Jacob, who also go to our church. They take their gingerbread house making very seriously – They’re pros. It turns out a number of people at Southern Hills take gingerbread house making very seriously. We might need to have a church gingerbread house making party and contest sometime.

Because of nearly constant space constraints since I was little, my family never got into making gingerbread houses. It was fun to see the variety of design, even though we were all using the same materials. But more than that, it was fun to spend the time with dear friends, sharing Christmas traditions, leading up to the celebration of one of the two most wonderful holidays, the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

IMG_5302.lowrezFor Christians, even the secular traditions should be a reminder to us of what we are celebrating – We are celebrating the coming of God to earth, the long-promised, long-awaited Messiah, the Blessing of Abraham, the Davidic King who will reign forever, the one who will one day destroy Satan and dry all tears. That is something to celebrate!

Laura Elizabeth

Sunday walks and spiderwebs

DSCN1167.1 Sundays always go too quickly–The fellowship, the family time, the blessed enjoyment of the outdoors. We live in such a fast-paced culture, but I’ve been discovering a peace that comes with a quieter life. Sometimes life gets busy and schedules get hectic, but coming home to a quiet life at the end of the day is unbelievably restful and calming. Regrettably, the last week sped by with hardly enough time to breathe deep of the clear, piney air or to ponder flowers in shady corners of the Hills. I tried to make up for it today.

DSCN1155.1A quiet, solitary walk to scout some good photography locations was restorative, even with temperatures in the 90s. I explored a beautiful little ravine branching off our jeep trail to Hole-in-the-Wall, and enjoyed the sight of birch trees glinting in the 5:00 sunlight. Deadfall and rocks, mossy soil and sandy creekbed–The ravine was like something straight out of a western novel. I love not being able to see what is around the corner–Where might it go? What is just out of sight, waiting to be discovered?

Another ravine, the grass bent from flooding, was scattered with ancient, sun-bleached bones. Some of them were mossy and green, all of them porous with time. Life is so short, so transient. Like the “flower of the grass”, the Bible says, life comes and life fades, just like that. Human life, animal life, plant life. But unlike the flower of the grass, we have a soul that will not die! And God is good to His children. So good.

DSCN1159.1On the way back through the corrals to get home, which are built with the bare rock as the fourth wall, I nearly walked right through this beauty’s web. I watched as she snagged herself a grasshopper, then scurried back to the center to watch and wait. Ants are examples of industry. Spiders are examples of vigilance.

DSCN1189.1We were graced with a little thundershower this afternoon, just enough to wet the deck and scare the Dog. She’s a bit of a coward. The clouds rolled up so gradually, they looked like smoke and haze, but soon took command of the whole horizon and the sky above. A little thunder, a little rain, a little wind in the whispering pines. The moisture was pleasant.

Tomorrow is the start of a new day, a new week, and a new job! Off to new adventures.

Laura Elizabeth

Sundry Sunday adventures

DSCN0671.1   The Sabbath should be the central day of the week for Christians. Not because the Jewish ceremonial law still applies to Christians (Matthew 5:17 is clear about the ceremonial law and Christ’s redemptive coming having completed it), but because God has given us a day which we still, 2000 years after Christ was raised from the dead, which we still set aside to be a time of devotion to God and fellowship with other Believers. What a gift! If you’re not enjoying it to it’s fullest, you’re sadly missing out, and I recommend a prayerfully considered change.

DSCN0673.1And by “enjoying it to it’s fullest,” I mean taking advantage of the fact that Sunday is the one day of the week where a substantial part of the day is set aside for worship of God and fellowship with other believers. Why wouldn’t a Christian want to savor that time, and make it last as long as possible? The world is a lonely place, and as the world becomes more hostile to Christianity, I find fellowship with Believers sweeter and sweeter.

DSCN0682.1And what a day–What a day!  After a wonderfully applicable sermon about fully identifying with Christ, and our lives being dictated by what we believe about God and what we desire, we headed over to Stockade Lake to give Anna a dipping, and to celebrate through a baptism Anna’s decision to publicly identify with Christ. What a joyous time, to celebrate a Believer’s desire to fully identify in Christ! Our culture calls us to identify as many things–Anything we want, really. But to identify with Christ? How counter cultural! What a blessing to be able to identify with Christ! How humbling and wonderful and glorious.

After the baptism, we went back to church and were officially welcomed into the membership of Southern Hills Bible Church, and enjoyed our weekly potluck, which was all the better for it being with our own church, the congregation of Believers we have chosen to attach ourselves to. God willing, we’ll be there for years to come.

DSCN0666.2And as if that wasn’t enough, some of us “young people” headed out on a hike, enjoying an extended time of friendship and fellowship and reveling in new relationships centered around one important thing: Jesus Christ’s redemptive work in our lives. What a gift. All of us young people, Hannah and Jacob, Roy and Jessie and Isaak, Sarah and I, all of us are relatively new to this congregation, and, speaking for myself, I have been tremendously blessed by these new brothers and sisters in Christ.

If you’re reading this wondering how in the world a bunch of Christan (homeschool or homeschooled) kids can possibly have fun together, let me tell you, it doesn’t take alcohol, it doesn’t take R-rated movies, it doesn’t take cell reception and texting, and it doesn’t take rebellion against rules and authorities. We know how to have fun and how to spend time in a meaningful way, and it doesn’t take anything more than another person with whom to share life. But we had more than that. A wooded path is an invitation into God’s beautiful Creation. Fellowship with Believers is a glimpse into eternity. The delicate petals of a flower are a living testament to God’s handiwork.

DSCN0680.1The unceasing conversation, the frequent laughs, the mutual enjoyment of God’s Creation, all made for a delightful afternoon. We explored an old mine tunnel, marveled at grass snakes and flowers, stones and toadstools, got soaking wet in a little downpour, talked theology and politics, delved into one another’s lives, and, speaking for myself at least, we could have gone on for hours more.

DSCN0686.1And hey, I even found an arrowhead. A little bonus for today.

Laura Elizabeth