2017 | In Hindsight

And just like that the New Year was here, and 2017 became a memory. I can’t believe we are already 2 weeks into January! And it is way too easy for those memories of the previous year to be filed away and not fully appreciated. There are two things that I find helpful and edifying at the start of a new year. One is to look ahead with hope and optimism and make a list of goals for the year. The other is to look back over the last year and count the blessings. It is not our natural inclination, but it is so good for the heart and soul.

2017 was another year of changes or transitions. It seems that ever since I graduated highschool, life has been one transition after another. Just when I think I’ve settled in to a routine, things change dramatically. Highschool to the junior college, junior college to university, university to South Dakota, odd job to odd job, then starting a small business, and starting another small business, this to that, one wild idea to another wild idea. And God has been so good through it all. There has been fear involved, fear about what could happen, fear of failure, fear of looking like a fool – But God is God and I am not, and His plans will not fail. Mine might – So my businesses could tank. We’ll see. But His plans won’t. So if my businesses tank, then for some reason that is what God has planned for my good and His glory. (That said, I do hope they don’t tank.)

2017 was a year of adventures, some smaller, some bigger, and seeing new places. I can safely say I’ve never experienced a year with this many adventures or this much traveling! The biggest adventure, of course, was my Alaska and Yukon trip, and the joyous time spent with my extended family up there in the Last Frontier. On a number of smaller trips, I got to see Boulder, CO ( for a photography workshop), Bozeman, MT (for a Biblical counseling conference), and Douglas, WY (for the total eclipse), all three places I’d never been before, and Montana and Colorado states I’d never visited before. It is about time I visited my neighbors. The eclipse was, of course, a huge highlight – what a divine, majestic, wonderful event! What a testimony to God’s goodness, creativity, and power. And camping in the bed of my truck was just plain fun.

2017 was a year of growth and encouragement. My piano studio grew, which was a joy. Teaching is something I always adamantly said I’d never do, and ironically God is now using teaching piano to transition me out of full time work at the clinic to full time self employment – and He, amazingly, has given me a contentment, an enjoyment of it, and even a love of it. While I can say with some certainty that teaching is not what I want to do full time, or even long term, it is something that is useful, productive, and is allowing me to continue to think outside the box. And then photography – I had my first official clients in 2017, and did a number of portrait sessions for friends as well. Again, what a blessing to have found something I love that is able to provide some income! I am optimistic that this endeavor will continue to grow! I was also delighted to see an article of mine published in Country Magazine, another little boost of encouragement, for those times when I look at what I studied in college (music) and where I want to be or what I want to be doing (not music), and can get a little discouraged wondering what my options are, short of going back to school. I’m learning that I do have options – I just have to think outside the box.

2017 was also a year of admonitions and humbling. I was reminded again and again how much I need my Savior, and how little I often value Him, how often my attention is trapped by other things and my heart tries to put something else on the throne that belongs to Jesus Christ alone. While those are never comfortable facts to be confronted with, on the one hand, I am so thankful that Jesus doesn’t give up on me when my love for Him grows cold. Instead, He puts people and books and sermons and struggles in my way, to remind me, to admonish me, to humble me, and to draw me back towards Him.

I look forward to 2018 and the plans God has in store for this New Year.

The Simplicity of Thanks

Thanksgiving is almost entirely an uncomplicated holiday. I suppose we’ve kind of spoiled that with the Black Friday and Cyber Monday insanity, but Thanksgiving Day itself could hardly be simpler. Compared to the other holidays we observe culturally, such as Easter and Christmas, or even St. Valentine’s and St. Patrick’s Days, all of which have modern traditions and trappings that do something to secularize and obscure the original meaning, Thanksgiving has been relatively unsullied. There is little in the way of complication. Get together, eat together, pray together, laugh together. Its terribly simple. Yesterday, we enjoyed the company of friends and family as we always do, our traditional meal, beautiful pies, homemade bread and jams and jellies, a hike to Hole-in-the-Wall, and a Christmas movie after everyone had left. Sweet and simple. And so typical for us. IMG_1287eIMG_1307eIMG_1306eIn a culture that craves the new experiences, the best foods, the best clothes, the best vacations, where #YOLO and we desire to be the envy of those around us, and to outdo one another in matters that don’t even matter, for one day we seem to set all of that aside in favor of the familiar, the simple, the old-fashioned, the typical, the rustic. What could be less elegant or progressive than turkey and pumpkin pie? Yet that somehow brings us all back to the familiar idea culturally that we have so much to be grateful for. Even those who don’t acknowledge God understand that there is a level of gratitude we owe to someone or somewhere outside of ourselves. I’m just glad I know to whom I give thanks. And it isn’t to me or to some impersonal force of fate.

Gratitude is simple, like turkey and pumpkin pie, and it is the same now as it was in yesteryears. Biblically, we are commanded to give thanks in all circumstances. Period. There are no qualifiers, no ceremonies to perform, no special prayer to pray, no specifications, instructions, or complicated user manual. Just the command to give thanks. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18) Not just to give thanks when the table is laden with food and my needs have been met. Not just when I am comfortable and making as much money as I think I need. Not just when I’m certain of where I’m going and what I’m doing and I’ve got everything under control. Not just when my vehicle is reliable and my relationships are enjoyable. Not just when life is good and I feel admired and needed. My gratitude can’t be put on hold until I’m married and living the life I thought I’d be living by the time I turned 27. I can’t put my gratitude on hold until medical bills are paid, my savings reaches a certain amount, and I feel like things are going the way they should be. My gratitude cannot be conditional. If it is…then it isn’t gratitude. It is simply a reasonable response to a good thing. But my gratitude has to be forthcoming when I am hungry, tired, and grouchy after a long day of work, and still have to fill up my fuel tank on the way home and it is 20 degrees, dark, and the wind is whipping. My gratitude has to be forthcoming when I am uncomfortable and feel sheepish because I’m not doing what most 27-year-olds do with their life and I kind of wonder if I missed something. My gratitude has to be forthcoming when I feel like I’ve failed and when I know that I’ve failed. When I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing and life feels out of control. When I feel belittled and unnecessary, depressed and anxious. When my vehicle is unreliable, my relationships are discordant, when life feels like a drag. When I’m still single at 27, and those little dreams I thought for sure would be reality by this time just aren’t coming true. When I’ve got medical bills, taxes to pay, and a bank account that isn’t as full as it seems like it should be. We each have those little things that pile up like grime on a window, obscuring and complicating our sight, those things that eat into our joy and nag our hearts, turning our thoughts away from Christ. We have to intentionally turn our thoughts to Him, trust Him, and then give thanks.

Luke 16:10 says, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.” I think we can also say that one who gives thanks in very little also gives thanks in much. We cultivate a heart attitude of thankfulness by thanking God even for the mundane, normal, boring, simple things. Those are no less gifts from Him than are the big things – the marriage, the new baby, the new house, the life-saving operation. God is the giver of all good gifts, even the things we think no one wants to hear about when you’re sharing the thing you’re thankful for. I’m thankful for the air we breathe, the ground we walk on, the sky above our heads. I’m thankful for my family. For my church. For my cat sleeping on the arm of the chair. For flannel pajama pants. For hot tea. For my mattress on the floor of the loft bedroom I share with my sister. All of these extras that God didn’t need to create or facilitate, much less to gift to me for my edification and delight. The attitude of gratitude isn’t cultivated by waiting until those obvious moments when it is culturally appropriate to give thanks. Thank God for the glass of water you just drank, the bed you’re looking forward to, the cold cereal you eat for breakfast. Thank God for His sustaining power even in the things we are too callous to think about more than every once in awhile, but by which His power is displayed in ways we can’t even come close to comprehending: the balancing and continuous sustaining of our solar system, the water cycle, our supply of oxygen, gravity. Start with things we, to our shame, too often take for granted. I’m thankful for the gift of salvation. I’m thankful that this life isn’t all that there is. I’m thankful that I know there is a purpose behind all the trials, the major ones, the tragedies, as well as the little niggling trials like sales tax and singleness. I’m thankful that I know and serve and am loved by a sovereign God who loves those who are His, and does all things for their good and His glory. I’m thankful.

If your heart loves the LORD and your desire is to honor Him, there is so much to give thanks for, even when life doesn’t seem like it has much to offer. Over and over in the Bible, God’s people are commanded to give thanks, sometimes “because He is good,” and other times, simply because He is. And we, too, can give thanks, simply because HE IS. For no other reason. He is. He is. He is. Give thanks.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Glorious, like Apple Butter

At the beginning of this growing season, our two little apple trees were very promising, covered with blossoms. Since we don’t prune our trees, this was the “on year,” the year we were supposed to get a good crop of apples. Then, a month or two months later, the fruit looked promising as well. The apples started pinking up, and they even began to taste like fall. We had just started commenting on what we would do with this crop of apples…and we got our hail storm, which pummeled those two little trees pretty badly. Needless to say, we were disappointed! But I went out a couple of days later and scavenged under the trees, picking through the fallen apples. My initial idea was to try to pick up the ones that were “just bruised.” When I saw how pathetically few apples there were that were “just bruised,” my standards loosened, and it became something like “the ones without bugs in them.” Even that standard slipped, and as long as the bugs weren’t embedded, the apple went into the bucket. Some of them were damaged and rotting beyond use, but I picked up a large bucketful of apples, and spent a couple of hours cutting off the bad spots.
IMG_3323eIMG_3487eWe cooked the apples this afternoon, and put them through this antique ricer we had in the Miner’s Cabin – a beautiful piece of kitchen equipment! The smell of apples cooking is the smell of fall and plenty, the smell of harvest and celebration and family gatherings. It reminds me of Curtis Orchard, a family orchard we used to visit in Illinois, and the wonderful apple donuts they were known for. IMG_3503eThe tart apples had cooked down into a beautiful golden sauce, steaming hot and fragrant. We now have it in a slow cooker to turn it into the wonderful thing called apple butter, since no one in the family particularly likes applesauce. A recipe to come…IMG_3492eA couple of things come to mind as I think back and write this. One obvious thing is just how fortunate we’ve been this year, as I think of the flooding down south and the fires north and west of us. The drought has been hard on this region, and we’ve had our hail storms, but compared with the destruction of the floods and the fires, we have been amazingly fortunate here and have nothing to complain about.

The second thing that comes to mind is just how good God is. As I was picking up fallen apples, looking at the spoiled spots, the bruises, the damage, resisting the urge to call it a lost cause, and thinking ahead to my plans for those apples, it seemed like a mini parable. On our own, we have nothing to offer – not to God or to anyone else. We are damaged and bruised and broken, completely corrupt at heart. Yet Jesus takes us and washes us, rather than giving up on us, and even in our brokenness He uses us to His glory. This side of Heaven, our bruises and brokenness will never completely go away. By God’s grace, those things will heal and lessen to a certain extent, but we will always struggle in this life. But He takes us anyway and calls us His own. How glorious.

Glorious, like apple butter. But better. Far better.

Taking Time to Wander

IMG_8964Time is a commodity everyone is short on.  We live in a rat’s race pace, perpetually scraping for “more time”, but never feeling like we find it.  And all for what? A few more dollars in the bank? A few more stamps in the passport? A few more parties, pleasures, possessions? People spend their healthy days working themselves to death in the hopes that they’ll still be healthy enough when they retire to enjoy the things they didn’t enjoy when they were younger.

IMG_8948Now, I don’t for a minute think that the end goal of life is enjoyment or pleasure – I believe God put each of us on this earth with a purpose, that purpose being first and foremost to glorify Him. I believe our lives should be useful lives, seeking to serve and bless other people. This is something I’m still working on myself, trying to figure out. But even while I believe that pleasure isn’t the goal of life, I believe that God made this world beautiful for His glory and our enjoyment, and I don’t think nearly enough people are willing to enjoy it, or give themselves the time to enjoy it, or have the eyes to enjoy it, or to enjoy the deeper significance of the beauty of this world. Our culture has created a mindset towards work and daily life that makes it difficult to enjoy the good things God has created, the things that can’t be bought and paid for.

I think this is ultimately an issue of purpose, of spiritual purpose.

IMG_9002Of course I understand that our culture is far from being Christian anymore – Our culture is actively rejecting any concept that is remotely Christian, but by rejecting God and the Gospel we haven’t just lost our faith or our adherence to some “strict moral code,” as some would like to argue. By losing our Christian worldview and our Christian identity, we’ve lost our purpose, our identity that goes deeper than our job title, the dollar amount on our paycheck, the neighborhood we live in, or the prestigious way we spend our free time. We are forever hungering for something we think we can buy with money, but can only be gained with spiritual eyes and a new heart. We’ve lost the joy of contentment.

IMG_8973We’ve lost the ability to appreciate God’s simple daily gifts and the significance of something as ephemeral as a rainbow, or a flower, or the way the sunlight strikes the mica-encrusted quarts.  We’ve lost our appreciation of beauty. And what slim appreciation of true beauty that there is becomes mired in the mindset of meaninglessness, all that there is in this world being the result of complicated and unexplained “natural processes”. Meaningless, everything is meaningless.

We have a nation that is sinking under a burden of vainly spent dollars, under a burden of depression and worry and jealousy and envy and pride and hate.  We have a culture of people who live with the constant reminder of what they can do, should do, or want to do, of what the human race can do, has done, will do, wants to do. We have a culture that wakes, eats, works, and sleeps surrounded by the fruit of man’s labors. Our culture is so bent on complicated pleasures, so bent on belongings and material wealth and security, that we as a culture have completely lost sight of the brimful storehouse of God’s goodness, manifested in His wonderful Creation, which are gifts that anyone can enjoy.

IMG_9030There is a whole world that exists outside of the city limits, above the light pollution, beyond the concrete, steel, brick, and glass of our world of industry. What if people could see and understand the significance of beauty?  What about the beauty of true and selfless relationships? What if people had a context in which to understand sorrow and grief and pain? What if people could be reminded of what God can do, has done, will do, and could see God’s fingerprints on every hill, rock, tree, flower, pebble, lake, and cloud? What if people could see God’s promises spelled out in His Creation? What if people could revel in the plenty of contentment? What wealth of soul that would produce! These are pleasures that cannot be bought with money, comforts that aren’t material, so to these we all have equal access. Even the poorest among us can be rich indeed, rich of soul. That is a richness that lasts.

IMG_8947This is a richness that begins, first and foremost, at the moment of Salvation. This is also an attitude of the heart that can be cultivated, and doesn’t require straying outside of the city limits (although it is easier to see God’s handiwork outside of man’s world). It is possible to train one’s eyes to see God’s fingerprints in the small and mundane things of life. It is possible for anyone, work-burdened, life-burdened, heart-burdened, or otherwise, to experience the joys of living, whether in the midst of difficulty or not. God gives these gifts. We have to be willing to see them.

IMG_8939How wonderful, then, is taking the time to wander and to wonder, taking the time to stray from the beaten path, to gaze on the obscured, to revel in the majesty of this beautiful world, knowing that this world, beautiful as it is, is just a washed-out, lesser, corrupt version of the wonderful world to come.

Laura Elizabeth