Daily Gratitude

There seems to be quite a bit of turmoil the past couple of months, with the forest fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, and mass shootings. And of course there is the stuff that is always going on somewhere in the world, whether it is on the news or not: corrupt governments, civil unrest, poverty, orphans, disease, and war.

I feel very sheltered and safe living in my small town surrounded by these massive mountains. I know we could have natural disasters here, too, but we aren’t right now. In these times of relative peace I need to remember to be grateful EVERYDAY to God for my normal, day- to- day life. My life definitely does not feel luxurious, but I know it is a luxury to have the free time and the physical ability to go hiking and explore the great outdoors almost every weekend. Sometimes I feel a bit silly writing about my family’s hiking trips while there are so many bigger things happening in the world. Although, I think it is not a useless task to give glory to God for the good in my life and the beauty I see in nature, and that is what I hope I am doing with my blog.

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Last weekend we drove up to Success Summit to view the fall colors. Besides the trees in town, there are not any natural deciduous trees in the valley so we had to take a drive up into the mountains to get our yearly dose of fall foliage. It was a glorious autumn day, with groves of aspen ablaze in gold and amber splendor. Of course our colors can’t compete with the Midwest and East, but our colors come with a majestic mountain backdrop.

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The picture below is not the best, but I thought the golden strip of trees on the mountainside really stood out against the dark green pines and brown soil, creating an interesting design.

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Just taking in the gorgeous mountain and valley view, with a few trees just starting to get their yellow leaves sprinkled in.

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If you see a fallen tree while walking in the woods, and you are a little boy (or a big boy), you have to take the time to walk across it.

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Beautiful autumn. Thank God for days like this.

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My family right now is in a pretty good place. Of course things aren’t perfect. Some days my child’s poor behavior mystifies me. And we always seem to be short on money. And our dog just recently passed away. But that’s just normal life and I am grateful for it. I have lived enough life to know this period won’t last forever. We all have our seasons of strife and suffering. Whether you are having a regular stressful day or your whole life has just been turned upside down, remember you are not alone. God will never abandon you and He will see you through.

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Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

From Mundane to Extraordinary

I have lived in seven different states scattered across this country, including all four corners and the middle. The first full year I live in a place is always the most intriguing. I love experiencing a new place as it transitions through the seasons: discovering what flowers bloom in the springtime, watching the water levels of rivers and lakes rise and drop, finding the best patches of fall foliage, and witnessing the first snow flakes fall from the sky.

I have lived in Nevada for 6 months and this is my first autumn in a Southwestern state. I know the area does not support many deciduous trees so I had low expectations for fall color. However, the sagebrush caught me by surprise. These usually mundane green- gray plants that cover our valleys and hillsides are now exploding with brilliant yellow blossoms.

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Sagebrush is prevalent throughout Nevada and it is, not surprisingly, the state’s flower. Driving hours through monotonous sagebrush valleys can make the plant seem ordinary and boring, but they are actually pretty fascinating. Sagebrush contains certain compounds that deter consumption from animals. Pronghorn are the only large herbivore that can tolerate substantial amounts of it. What is really interesting is the plants’ ability to communicate with each other. If one sagebrush plant is getting eaten, it will release chemicals to warn other nearby plants. Those plants will then increase their quantities of the repellent compounds.

Sagebrush isn’t good to eat (they are toxic to the liver and digestive system in humans), but the Native Americans still found them to be quite useful. It was used externally for many purposes, including preventing infections and relieving head aches and other body aches. There are not many resources available while living off the land in the desert, so if one plant surrounds you for hundreds of miles in every direction, I guess you are bound to find a use for it.

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I have driven through areas with sagebrush before moving here, but it must never have been during the early autumn. I am just loving these cheerful, abundant yellow flowers, glowing brightly in the sunshine against the big blue sky. They are the perfect welcoming committee for autumn and I am eager to experience all the nuances of this season in my new home.

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Maybe there is something to be learned from the lowly sagebrush. Something so common and so drab can, for a short time, become something beautiful. God created everything for a purpose, especially his children. We may feel depleted from the daily grind, feeling that we have nothing extraordinary to offer. Our spirits may feel akin to the sagebrush- a tumultuous mix of toxic and medicinal. However, never doubt that God has a plan for you. Even the sagebrush can provide soothing relief and a bit of cheer in a harsh world. We will all have our day in the sun, an opportunity to blossom and live out the purpose that God has called us for.

 

Ephesians 2:10

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

 

 

Ancient Paths

On a mild, overcast Spring day we headed two hours south to the White River Narrows Archaeological District. It is a part of the newly created Basin and Range National Monument, 700,000 acres of remote land in southeastern Nevada. A backdrop of mountains, canyons and rolling desert is home to many different petroglyph sites, some dating back as far as 4,000 years. This park was pretty undeveloped; there were no signs, markers or maps showing us the way. It made for a pretty cool experience because it almost felt like we were discovering the petroglyphs for the first time.

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Admiring the ancient rock art led me to reflect on the lives of the people who made it. After we enjoyed our day out in the desert, we drove our car back to our house, which is outfitted with electricity and indoor plumbing and has a fridge full of food that I bought at the grocery store. There was no going back to a comfy home at the end of the day for those native people. They carved out an existence in this harsh desert day- to- day and season- to- season. It must have been a tough life, to say the least. It gave me the opportunity to be grateful for my “everyday luxuries”- things I hardly even notice, yet millions of people in the world today still lack them. Technological advances sure have come a long way from the time these rocks were carved. I am continually surrounded by these advances living my average (or even below- average) life here in America. It was a good reminder that my standard of living was definitely not the historical norm and sadly still is not the worldwide norm.

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It was not long into our hike that we encountered this big guy. Look at those crazy long yellow toes. He was interesting. He didn’t scurry away like the other smaller lizards we saw. I don’t know if he was poisonous, or sick, or just very confident.

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Late April turned out to be the perfect time to visit this area. It wasn’t hot yet and all the spring wildflowers were blooming. I was surprised to see so many different types of flowers growing in this dry landscape. We saw flowers in an array of hues: purple, blue, yellow, white, orange and red. They added lively bursts of color to the otherwise gray, brown, and muted green desert.

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We started out hiking through open country until we reached the entrance to this canyon, which looks ordinary enough from here.

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However, as we continued walking, the canyon quickly narrowed and the red rock walls closed in on us on both sides. It was an incredible area, but we also got an eerie feeling that little monsters were spying on us through all the nooks and crannies in the rocks or a group of bandits would ride up and attack us from the top of the canyon walls. (Yes, maybe we have seen too many movies).

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Even with the petroglyphs, lizards and flowers to enjoy, the most striking feature of this area was the endless variety of rock formations. The shallow caves, the mountains comprised of boulders and the sculpted towering rocks all provided boundless fascination.

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As our boots became covered in dust along the same ancient paths that were used by people thousands of years ago, we marveled at the timeless beauty of the desert and we were humbled by the the sheer vastness of geologic time, or God- time. Our lives are but one speck of the whole story.

“A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.”

~Edward Abbey

Winter Skies

It could be said that the earth is the body of Nature while the sky is her face. The sky is where she puts her moods on display and they are ever- changing, from minute- to- minute, day- to- day, and season- to- season. Winter, I feel, is the moodiest of all seasons and I tend to absorb those moods as my own. There can be endless stretches of  gloomy clouds and fog that require extra motivation to leave the warm comfort of my home or to even roll out of bed in the morning.

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Then, the clouds finally drift away and the brilliant blue sky appears. On days like this, household chores are put on hold in order to savor every last minute of sweet sunshine. The cool air and sunny days are energizing and it is almost impossible not to match Nature’s cheerful mood.

The bare white branches of winter look especially striking against a clear, bright blue sky. Without leaves, the intricate shape and form of trees are on display and the warm sunshine coaxes me to stop and admire.

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Then there are the rare, breathtaking sunsets that just stop me in my tracks. As I stand there in amazement, I imagine God has lifted a veil from over the sky so that, just for a moment, his glory shines through to his children on earth. It is an experience that both humbles and heartens me.

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When the sun fades away on a clear night, we do not have to live in complete darkness. The moon and stars emerge, and they are beautiful reminders that we are not alone. They provide us light, comfort, and wonder until the sun once again brightens the world.

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14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be signs to indicate seasons, and days, and years. 15 Let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. 17 Then God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. Then God saw that it was good. 19 So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

Genesis 1:14-19

Snow

I have a love- hate relationship with snow. Snow makes driving slow and stressful, it creates the chore of shoveling, it makes you cold and wet if you don’t dress properly, and it just makes life a bit harder overall. With that said, I really do love snow. I love watching large snowflakes leisurely make their way down to the earth just as much as I love watching millions of smaller snowflakes swirling violently in a storm. I love watching the winter sun shine on freshly fallen snow, creating a field of crushed, dazzling diamonds against a bright blue sky. What I love most, though, is a clear night, when the full moon reflects off the snow and I am able to see almost perfectly without the aid of a light. My own backyard becomes a magical otherworldly landscape. All is quiet; it is just me and the trees and the snow, with the moon lighting the way.

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In all my life I have never seen anything that embodies the word “pure” more than a blanket of freshly fallen snow. The power of a blizzard, the gorgeous glistening snow in the sunshine, and the peace and wonder of experiencing snow on a moonlit night all point to the majesty of God. His creative and unique gifts to us add beautiful layers and dimensions to life.  Being able to observe our world through the change of seasons adds so much richness and excitement to my life and gives me a greater appreciation of God’s masterful craftsmanship.

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“…Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;…”

Isaiah 1:18

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Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

 

 

The Meeting Place

In the Garden of Eden, God created an idyllic place for mankind to live. God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in this exquisite garden of paradise. What perfection that must have been- to have such an intimate relationship with God in a place exhibiting the purest form of beauty.

Living in Eden is no longer an option for us, but we are still drawn to beautiful and peaceful places in nature. I always feel closest to God when I am outside, away from buildings and pavement. After all, humans built churches, but God built all of nature. I would rather be in His house.*

God created this earth not only to provide us with resources for food and housing, but He also made places to rest and to play and to experience beauty and awe. Is there a better place to experience God’s majesty than on a mountaintop; or to appreciate God’s gift of peace than beside the still waters of a lake; or to wonder at God’s creativity than spotting a wild animal in its natural habitat?

There is more luring us to the outdoors than just pretty scenery and thrills of adventure. The gentle and delicate way light filters through the green leaves of a forest, and the thundering crash of waves against a rocky shore all hint there is something bigger, something more meaningful and powerful in our midst.

As we leave our homes and daily routine behind and step into these quiet and awe- inspiring places, we can hear whispers of Eden echoing in our souls. Perhaps nature has always meant to be the meeting place of God and man. Eden’s whispers ripple through the ages and beckon us back to those places God has created for us, keeping us searching for what was lost and what we know will come again.

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Psalm 96: 11-13

11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;

    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.

12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;

    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.

13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,

    he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world in righteousness

    and the peoples in his faithfulness.

 

*I just want to clarify: I am an advocate of attending church services with other believers. My point is that church buildings offer no special powers or direct avenues to God.