Tracks in the Snow

tracks by the fenceThe twelve-passenger van made its way down Yellowstone’s snow-covered road not on traditional tires, but on treads meant to traverse the groomed roadway. Gone were the crowds and the fly fishermen of fall, replaced by seas of white broken by swaths of evergreen and dots of brown, bison in search of last year’s grass to fill their bellies. Two adult trumpeter swans, their arched necks highlighted against the steamy Firehole River, swam alongside a grey cygnet, all camouflaged by the white of the snow and the deep of the water. A cow elk foraged alone for food on a hillside and a bald eagle soared in the sky above.

When we left the Firehole River Valley to follow the Gibbon, we passed a thermal feature I’d never noticed before: the Chocolate Pots. Water flowed from its cone down a short slope to the water below, its deep browns a fountain of chocolate in the forest. Situated on the riverbank across from the road, it was obvious and I wondered how I’d never seen it before. I’d passed by  that familiar stretch of road hundreds of times.

This day was different. Instead of it being just one part of a sea of deep colors—evergreen boughs on brown trunks emerging from dark dirt—it was framed by winter’s white. Snow crept to its very edge and frosted the trees which framed the opening through which it showed itself. It stood out, revealed to me for the first time.

Chocolate Pots

I’d always thought of snow as something that transforms, something that softens the landscape, accenting every beauty and concealing every blemish.

Transformation, it seems, is not snow’s only offering. Its true gift may be that of revelation, and I value what it reveals more than the loveliness of what it temporarily changes. The year we saw the Chocolate Pots, snow showed us more every day.

Tracks in the snow kept us where we belonged as we hiked the hill to Observation Point. Tracks in the snow woke us up, made us pay closer attention and look more closely for wolves in Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley, wolves we eventually found sharing dinner for two. And tracks in the snow showed us, as we wandered over the white and wintry landscape, where we’d been and where we hadn’t.

It’s these trails along the wandering way which may be the best revelation of all. They’re signs of sorts, reminders of the places we’ve been and why they matter. And the open spaces between, those fields of unbroken snow and untried trail, they invite us to carry on.

Wandering is a complicated word. Even though I know the children of Israel’s forty-year tenure in the wilderness was spent waiting, not milling around aimlessly lost in the woods, when I hear a reference to their wandering in the wilderness, it’s milling that I see. And even though I know the dictionary definition means to follow a winding course as much as it means to go astray, it’s the astray part that sticks.

Sometimes what sticks needs to be shed. A little time on the wandering way now and again does us some good. The Fellowship of the Ring is fiction, but the sentiment behind Tolkien’s poem is not:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

Sometimes the long way around is the best way forward. Sometimes it’s the winding course that brings us exactly to where we need to be. So here’s to tracks in the snow, the ones that show us not just where we’ve been, but all the places we’ve still to go.

IMG_1313And you? Are you willing to wander?

Adele and the Rearview Mirror

 

Teton National Park

At our Christmas celebration the cover image of a magazine in my parents’ living room caught my eye. It featured Adele. I like reading about celebrities, usually in germ-infested copies of People magazine at the doctor’s office. I wasn’t at the doctor’s and this wasn’t People.

It was Time magazine.

All I knew about Adele was that she’s known for taking a different-than-usual celebrity path.  So I picked up the magazine and read about her decision to step back from the limelight for a few years after the birth of her child, that her next album will be released too late to meet the eligibility deadline for the coming year’s awards, and how she writes her music in an old-school way largely left by the wayside in today’s pop music industry.

It was a list of the ways that she’s taken the road less traveled and how it’s working for her.

They say she has a beautiful voice, but it’s the way she looks at life I find myself admiring, the way she summed up when she told the interviewer that we discover things too easily and let go of them too quickly. It was a strong indictment on the times and the way we live.

There’s a white board on the wall at our local coffee shop that features a quote for each day: Chuck Norris-isms, jokes, scripture, movie lines, and serious words from long-dead men. G.K. Chesterton’s words filled the board yesterday: The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul. They reminded me of Adele’s observation about the ease and speed with which we find and let go of the discoveries we make.

Whether into a new day or a new year, moving forward well requires that we take a long what we’ve learned along the way and that, for me anyway, means an occasional look in the rearview mirror.

So in this season of looking ahead to this new year, the ways we’d like to be more healthy or more disciplined, I’d like to encourage you to look back toward the discoveries, the bits of wisdom, the hard-won lessons you’ve picked up along the way and take them along into the new year with you.

On the topic of looking back, I’m offering up some favorites of 2015: the books, internet reads, and even movies that have made me laugh, gave me something to think about, or made a difference in my journey, as well as some of my favorite and most viewed Along This Road posts.

Books:

  • Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist–Her words offer companionship for the journey. This is one of her earliest books and probably my favorite.
  • Art and the Bible by Frances A. Schaeffer–Interesting perspectives on art and the Bible, as well as valuable insight and encouragement about how our life should be the best art.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee–My oldest two read this for school and I reread it with them. I was amazed at how much was lost on me when I read it back in high school.
  • Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson–On the topic of taking responsibility–for your life, your faith, your marriage, your parenting, your home, just to name a few and written by one of those treasured older women.  She’s a season further down the road than I am and I appreciate her gentle way of challenging and encouraging those of us who come after her.

From the Internet:

Movies:

  • The September Issue–Fashion may be a little frivolous, but clothing is necessary, and the insight, creativity, and choices behind the biggest issue in the industry was fascinating.
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens–It did actually give me something to think about. Plus it was old school Star Wars and I went not just with my husband and our children, but also with my mom and dad and my brother and his family. It was nearly reliving moments from my childhood.
  • War Room–Encouraging and convicting. That’s a good combination right there, one that’s not always easily achieved.
  • Age of Ultron–What Can I say? We’re Marvel people around here.

Top Viewed Posts from Along This Road:

My Favorite Along This Road posts:

And you? What from this year do you want to take along with you into the new one? Have you read anything, watched anything, seen anything that has impacted your journey? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

 

 

Where She Belonged

Path through the trees

I woke, just after midnight, to contractions. Forcing myself to remain motionless under the covers, I tried to convince myself that it was nothing more than a long series of Braxton-Hicks and go back to sleep. But the contractions were strong and regular, each one arriving with just a little less time between it and the one before, and the baby wasn’t due for another six weeks.

When our previous baby made her entrance into the world, she’d been in a rush. Not the early arrival kind of hurry—she’d been overdue. No, she’d arrived just moments after my husband and I walked through the door to the OB unit in a hospital a mere three blocks from our home.

With that in mind, I imposed a deadline of October 31 to complete my out-of-town Christmas shopping. I had no desire to be on the road when I went into labor. I wanted to be where I belonged, close to home,  near my own doctor and the hospital where he practiced.

On the day of my final shopping trip, I drove to the mall with my four-year-old daughter, whose short strides matched my waddling steps. We walked the full length of both floors of the mall. We stopped at Target and Lowes and strip mall stores I can’t even remember. We put in a long and slow-moving day, but when it was over, we’d finished the shopping. But then I found myself, just an hour after laying my weary head on the pillow, awake, uncertain, and lamenting the fact that I had overdone it.

A few hours in a softly lit room hooked up to a monitor  gave me time to consider the uncertainties of life in light of the first Christmas.

Did Mary hope, I wondered, she and Joseph would make it to Bethlehem and back before the birth of the baby? Or did she know that the baby would arrive on the journey? Like me, she probably wanted to be at home, where she belonged, with the village midwife and familiar women to help her. But unlike me, she didn’t have the luxury of deciding when she would and would not leave town. Mary left for Bethlehem regardless of her own desires, comfort, or plans. She went because Caesar decreed it.

At least, that’s what it looked like.

Mary, along with her countrymen, were part of Caesar’s Rome, a government which controlled their lives and their finances, one which they looked to the promised Messiah to save them from. They had no choice but to go wherever and whenever the expansive Roman Empire ordered. Even women who were great with child.

But Rome wasn’t the ultimate authority.

Mary made the uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem–the city of her husband’s ancestors–in the final days of her pregnancy, not by choice, not by coincidence, not even because of Caesar’s edict. She went because that’s where she belonged, because that’s how God said the Savior’s arrival would unfold.

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The contractions faded away to nothing but doctor’s orders for bedrest and the baby held off until days before Christmas, just like she was supposed to. I was glad she waited, grateful for the memory of those unexpected hours in the hospital, a memory which surfaces once in a while to remind me of the truth of the first Christmas–that God wasn’t bound by Bethlehem’s city limits to choose the mother of Jesus, that he could turn even the heart of the mighty Caesar, that even through all the years of his people waiting and all the miles of Mary’s uncomfortable, uncertain journey he had a plan and the power to bring it about.

He knew where Mary belonged and how to get her there. He knows where we belong, how to get us from where we are to where we need to be. We wait. We wonder. Sometimes uncomfortable. Often uncertain.

He, however, is not uncertain. He is unbound by all the things that bind us, able to turn hearts, able to bring about his plan–both for forever and for tomorrow– for you, for me, for a broken and hurting world. That is a Christmas reality to celebrate.

Merry Christmas to us.

The King’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord;
He turns it wherever He wishes. Proverbs 21:1

Sharing Where She Belonged at Small Wonders, #TellHisStory and Thoughtful Thursday.

Because Sometimes We Forget

Once upon a time I looked at the empty picnic tables at interstate rest areas  and wondered Who uses those?  I never saw them in use and our stops were always quick and utilitarian.

Then J and I had kids.

Each of our three children was less than a year before we carted them off on their first thousand-mile-one-way road trip. With the combination of little ones and that kind of mileage, I learned to see rest areas with new eyes.

Beyond the continual requests for potty breaks, our kids needed to move, to get the wiggles out. At rest areas they ran. Down the sidewalks. Over the grass. On the playground equipment.

Now they’re growing up. They’re happy to read or sleep in the car. But they’re still willing to stop and wander through a rest area.

Some rest areas are efficient affairs, with straight sidewalks, grey cement picnic pads, and a pet exercise area off to one side. Others are wooded, wound about with sun-dappled paths that curve through the trees. It’s here where we’ll stroll down a shady sidewalk for a much-needed stretch when we find ourselves somewhere between where we’ve been and where we want to be.

Sometimes we want to be home, to sleep in our own beds, to return to the rhythm of the familiar. Other times we want to get on with the adventure, to arrive somewhere magnificent, to be done with the long drive already. Whether the destination is mundane or momentous, we still need to rest.

Rest Area

Because the kids are beyond the stage of potty-breaks and wiggles, it’s easy to forget that we all still need a break from the car. Because they’re growing up, we’re continually finding ourselves somewhere between where we’ve been and where we want to be. And because none of them are in the single digits anymore, it’s easy to ignore the fact that every one of us still needs occasional respite from life’s road.

Without regular naps or early bedtimes to anchor the rhythms of life, we  got a little lazy. Not lazy as in all we lounged around and eat bonbons, but lazy as in we ceased to pay attention, quit tending to important things. We ignored the reality that we all need pauses, pauses that allow for more than minimal sleep and sustenance. We need the kind that make space for conversation and connection, for worship, for the strengthening of the body, refreshment of the soul, and reorganization of the heart and the mind.

Stopping isn’t natural for me. It’s something I’m learning because I believe in the importance of the things that don’t happen when the hustle of life outstrips the pace of the heart. And it’s the heart–and those things near to it–that suffer first when I forget about rest.

Outdoors, I notice sunny spots and inviting paths that remind me to remember what’s important and to pause, to stop if necessary. I’m learning to look for those same places within the moments that make up my days and the days that make up my life, because it’s there I most need the reminder to pause, to stop if that is what’s called for, to embrace and be fully present in those moments–whether it’s the night’s rest or the morning’s breakfast, worship or conversation.

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Sunny spots and inviting paths are less obvious in the moments and days of life than they are outdoors. Sometimes they come disguised as Will you play a game with me? from a little one or an unconvincing Okay to the standard How are you today? asked of a friendOther times they appear as a sick child or post-operative parent. And still others it’s a weary look in my child’s eyes or the nagging fatigue in my soul.

Even short pauses don’t always come easily. In fact, they sometimes come at a cost. Sometimes they cost me my time. Other times they cost me pride.

Rest areas remind of my mortality, that–no matter how my life and lists tempt me to believe otherwise–I’m not omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. I am human, limited and fallible, in need of grace and mercy, and grateful that, in rest, I learn to receive.

And you? What reminds you that you need to rest?


Something to think about: Shelly Miller is a writer who encourages me to remember the importance of rest, specifically Sabbath rest. She writes this:  …Sabbath isn’t about resting so I can be more productive. It isn’t about me at all.  And this: Sabbath is a weekly inward commute from a loud world to a still small voice; a rhythm of familiar conversation in a language that speaks deeply of belonging. It is a reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around me.

The sad reality is that I so much like things to be about me. But slowly, slowly, I am learning about the connections between rest and God’s grace and mercy and that it isn’t about what I bring to the table at all. If you’d like to read more of what she has to say, click on over here or on the link above.

Sharing Because Sometimes We Forget at Small Wonders.

Because Winter Is Inevitable

IMG_1511Once, a long time ago, before babies and multiple moves to houses in new communities, I picked up the beginning of an understanding of seasons—their rhythms, their tasks, even their hard realities. Learning to be a mom to three babies while finding my way in three different towns left room for little else in my brain. I traded a loose grip on the concept of seasons for the clutching fist of survival.

It was not a good trade.

I forgot that seasons really do change. That whether delightful or dry, balmy or bitter, fertile or fruitless, they don’t last forever. That there is a time for every single thing.

I still thought about seasons here and there. I even wrote about them. What I didn’t do was understand the truth of them. It drifted around, unanchored, just beyond my grasp.

At least, that’s how it was until I woke up on the hard ground one morning in a tent in South Dakota to a bombardment of missiles launched by a pinecone-gathering squirrel, considered the cycle of the seasons and acknowledged my own.

Deep winter.

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I’m finishing this at Circling the Story today, where I’m thrilled to be included in Ashley’s Reader Stories series.  Click here to read the rest of the story.

For everything there is a season