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!

How Much I’d Miss

A lot is sacrificed for the sake of convenience. And certain conveniences, I’m more than happy to enjoy. For instance, a vehicle that runs and actually has heat in the winter (no air conditioning in the summer, I’m afraid) is a convenience I enjoy. And having a piano in my house rather than in the Miner’s Cabin, that’s a convenience I enjoy. Having quick access to hiking trails, that’s a convenience I enjoy. But I’m afraid that living close to town is not a convenience I enjoy. It isn’t a convenience I want to enjoy. And I am so thankful to God for having gifted me this opportunity to live in the place I love the most. This was my drive to Custer yesterday to teach piano. Highway 244 is scenic already, but with clouds and fog drifting in and out of the spires and trees, shrouding and uncovering the landscape, it had a feeling of mystery. It is a 45-minute drive that is never a chore. In moments like these, with views like these, with winding highways and granite spires lost in the fog and soaring views of valleys and further peaks, that I am drawn in thankfulness to the reality of God’s goodness. He created all of this beauty! He didn’t need to, there was no requirement that he do so, and yet he did. And I am so thankful for inconvenience. It would be convenient to live closer to a town, no doubt about it. It would be convenient if I tried to fit myself into a normal 9-5 job routine, rather than doing multiple things on a part-time basis. It would be convenient if I didn’t have to drive a minimum of 35 minutes one way to get to church or work or Bible study or the store. But how much I’d miss. How much I’d terribly miss.

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.

Winter in May

DSCN0198.1The snow fell thick and heavy today, and our springtime world was transformed into a winter fit for greeting cards and calendar pictures. Sarah and I both got off work because of hazardous road conditions, and consequently spent our day in various quiet tasks and occupations…because, as Anna said “There’s just not much to do,” meaning, when it is snowing a gale outside. When it is snowing slush and turning the ground into a slippery, sloppy mess, I’m thankful to have “nothing to do” that forces me to be out in it, getting soaked to the skin!

DSCN0179.1

The Miner’s Cabin, in spite of somewhat outdated insulating techniques, was my haunt for much of the day, since my sewing machines are out there. They are competing with the yet-to-be-sorted family items, such as Grandma and Grandpa’s travel souvenirs and miscellaneous household items, but it is a better sewing room than I could find anywhere else at this time! A little space heater doesn’t exactly keep it warm, but it takes the edge of the chill. DSCN0182.1Oh, for the day when we can have a fire in the stove! But there is some maintenance to be done on the chimney yet, which will probably have to wait until this coming fall. It will be ready by winter! Hopefully, however, I’ll get some blankets hung up over the bedroom door and the lean-to door, to keep the heat in the living room. In spite of the mess, it really is a lovely place to sew.

DSCN0233.1Coveting the photo opportunities, Sarah and I took a short excursion in the jeep, with the dog as a tag-along. The view from Highway 40 was beautiful and haunting. Distant familiar hills were lost entirely in the snow. The black of the trees had turned grey under the blanket of snow and ice. Green grass poked up through the snow, the only indication that it is springtime, and not early January! It was an odd sight, seeing a cheery red tulip covered in white, or seeing the young crabapple leaves frozen stiff.

DSCN0223.1By this evening, we’d gotten a good seven or eight inches of snow, I’m sure, and we expect snow all night. The snow is so wet and heavy, the trees are simply covered with it and bend under the weight. Hopefully the damage will be minimal, but for now it is enchanting. Trees have a nasty habit of taking out sections of fencing, and the cattle are supposed to arrive in less than a month, if all goes as planned! Too dry, too wet, not enough grass, crushed fence, cows too hot, cows too cold…I guess there’s always something. Maybe it is the promise of daily variety, the very real sense of risk, that play a role keeping ranchers coming back to ranching. I had one tell me he almost quits every week. But he doesn’t.

DSCN0241.1Thank God for a warm, snug home. It is shamefully easy to forget daily blessings, but when the weather is inclement and snow is piling deep, I realize what a true blessing it is to have a roof over my head, a source of heat, and a bed with warm blankets at the end of the day.

Laura Elizabeth