The Beauty in the Barren

House 2Definition of barren: Highway 10 from La Junta to Walsenburg, Colorado.

(So I’m not Webster, but am a watered-down relative, who is taking a few liberties.)

When I was merely a sprout of a Kansan, it was quickly imprinted on me that the mountains were created specifically for my family, but we considerately let everyone else borrow them. While there is nothing like a glorious Kansas sunset and great majesty in the red dirt wide open spaces, a refreshment of the soul happens on those pine-scented slopes one can find no where else.

However, to arrive there is no getting around trudging through a longsuffering stretch of desert wilderness. Magnetically, our engrained homing device always pulls us down this particular dusty trail.

While a two lane highway, it is  a 72 mile stretch where almost nothing grows, albeit some desperate cactuses thumbing for a lift. Scanning the horizon, one might see an anxious antelope, whose GPS evidently malfunctioned. Skeletons of homesteads mark hopes and dreams drying up and blowing away. I always have to ponder why on earth someone would purposefully decide this was the place to stop and stake a claim. Just traveling across it, I marvel the endurance and tenacity of the settlers moving west. I’m sorry, but after so much of traversing land where only sand and rocks grow, I would have demanded that Cliff Sackett turn the wagon around for what we had left was a whole heap better than where we were headed. On a hazy day, Common Sense would have campaigned that our destination had deserted us, and we would be foolishly trudging on forever.

Back in the non-air conditioned day, my family would pack the old Pontiac and head out. The 72 miles took F-O-R-E-V-E-R, especially when you’re six and the brand new crayons are melting into a clump in the back window. It was impossible to believe this was our final stretch and within 30 minutes of its end, we would be engulfed in the cool, stunning beauty of rushing streams and bejeweled pallets of wildflowers.

However, experience is a fabulous teacher. Having gone down this road more times than I can count, that 72 miles seems to get shorter, and after zipping through the harshness of Death Valley a few years back, the scraggly resilient cattle are a welcome sight, along with the possibility of maybe ten oncoming vehicles traveling this, too. I have learned that whether I can see those blessed peaks or not, they are there, strong and mighty, to welcome us.

This summer has been a rough one, hasn’t it?  And I’m not even talking personal issues, which demands unfathomable attention and energy. Our world is turning upside down with a constant volley of reports on the Zika virus, open season on police officers, tragedies that are fuzzy on who is at fault, ISIS attacks, and I’m not even touching on the insanity of the upcoming election. This list could string all day long.

Honestly, I’ve been in a funk. I’ve survived by busying myself so I don’t have to deal with  the fierceness of this desert storm. With a forecast of worse droughts ahead, I can only take so much. So I gloomily meander.

However, wandering in the wilderness is sure bleak. At times I falter a bit to being mad or scared for the future, but mostly I’m in a state of mourning, mixed with a kind of forlorn disappointment is best I can put it. Of course, I want to turn around to what was, but life is not designed that way. I can feel an on-my-face Jesus meeting is on the horizon. I kick myself for not simply getting on with it as I temporarily homestead on this impoverished ground. I know that I know that I know from covering this ground before, the refreshment and security of abiding in the shadow of the Most High will bring peace and rest.  And I will shout once again, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Ps 91:2)

But today, I’m still not quite there. But I’m miles closer than I was. I see the majesty from a far and His scent continues to draw me like a magnet. I can stake a claim on what I know without a doubt.

Growth will come through the barren, and beauty will blossom.

 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

(PS-For those good folks that do live in that area, I have nothing but highest respect for you and would love for you to share the beauty that I believe is there.)

Photo Credit-Patrick Praelan

 

Who Says the Mountain Ain’t Too High? Persevering to the Mountaintop Experience.

What’s your mountain’s name?   Or do you have a craggy range of them?  You know, the looming canyon walls that try to convince you to turn back ?  A sneaky one has suckered me in, and as I near the summit, it tries to convince me there is a dead-end with no alternate routes.  Little did I know the encouragement I craved would soon climb its way into my path.

Recently two of my daughters (Casey and Misty) and son-in-law (Karsten) rumbled with dreams of climbing Southern Colorado’s West Spanish Peak in a mere morning.  Any climber would roll down the mountain, laughing hysterically.  After thoughtful consideration, they plotted a trail of 13 miles.  This is when I said ‘yes’ to the careless offer from the Three Billy Goats Gruff going on the excursion, explaining  Colorado and Kansas miles are pinnacles apart.

 “Here is the formula I figure it with.  Take this 3.5 mile trail;  times it by 2 for the return trip; add the elevation; divide it by 4 — the number in our party–, and multiply it by our decreased oxygen levels…”  Their eyes glazed over, conceding to the AARP doorstep troll, twice their ages. 

I really wanted to go because 1.) Even when my muscles screamed the next day, the adventure would be worth it, 2.) Because my survivor-man brother and I had attempted this same route a few years back, but had to turn back. How fun to say, ‘Remember that trail, Clay?….” (Insert evil older sister laugh here.) And, 3.) I like truly like my family. Slap me on whatever bronc bucks our way, I’m riding it with them to the buzzer.  (Shhh….For back-up, I packed a book in case the road was too much for me.)

Here is what God showed me on Mt. Perseverance.

1.       Wear a good attitude like a backpack. Setting your mind to enjoy the journey is crucial including off-key singing.

2.       Prepare as much as possible, but pack only the necessary. Sturdy shoes, water, and snacks protected us.  Of course, I packed pen, paper, and a camera. Karsten declared himself the Water Boy and carted  all our high quality H2O, increasing the challenge for him. 

3.       Take breaks and check out the scenery. My companions began at breakneck pace.  I was not shy about stopping the crew.  Not only to catch my breath, but to catch glimpses of glorious view, being passed. Eventually, huffing voices filtered back to me. “Mom, you ready to take a break, yet?—pant, pant.”  We’d never make the top if we didn’t take care of ourselves, and stop to look for the blessings.

4.       Keep looking up and forward. As we got closer to our goal, the shafts of light increased, spurring us onward.  But, don’t forget to expect declines, dips, stumps, and thorns.  The farther the path went, the less traveled it was.  A sign few had persisted this far.

5.       Take whatever help is offered.  A walking stick, a change in the group’s hiking order, and encouraging words  reassured success for the group.

6.       The harder it gets, the more you pray. “Repeating, ‘Oh Lord, have mercy!’ saved my life.,” shares Almost 50 Year Old from Kansas..

7.       Laugh as much as possible. If I disclosed even a smattering of the stupid jokes of the Kahn Bus Mountain Rangers, (that’s us) you would think even I, the Elusive Mongoose, had lost it.

8.       It’s not a competition.  Everyone’s journey is different. About 100 foot from the top our Misty Goat’s back muscles clenched up, grabbing on to the hardware imbedded in her L5 vertebrae.  At her feet were stacks of small stone monuments made by someone before us.  “Or tombstones’ thundered the heartbeats pounding in my ears as my lungs tried to whirl the crank, hoping to restart potential respiration in the ol’ chest area. Truth be told, if I had known how hard this would be, I’d planted my book and I half-way up the path and knocked out a good 50 pages.

After muscles stretched and the blood pressure calmed, the steepest section of the climb’s tauted us with its severity. But we had come so far.  Our flag was ready to be staked and the mountain claimed!

Fatigue left as quickly as a mama’s exhaustion when she hears the first cry of her baby she’s worked so hard deliver.  Shouts of victory, mixed with the buzz of  robin-sized  hummingbirds shook the peak, blaring the theme from Rocky. Pictures engraved this victorious moment for the family archives.  But that wasn’t all.

 Over the jagged privacy fence of boulders, a secluded valley unfurled its carpet of lush pines, while jolly grasses bobbled on the bottom’s dance floor.  What an awe-filled display!

9.         Share the story.  I scribbled thoughts. The girls scaled extremely dangerous rock outcroppings, causing my if-you-fall-no-helicopter-can-rescue-you-here mom knees to buckle into a sitting position. Karsten honed his Spiderman skills, skittering along sandstone ledges. Down in the valley, a guy with swollen knees, a son with a pulled groin, and the lumbering form of our very pregnant daughter wisely had taken the route of reeling in their own personal fish stories.  A time of relaxation and just being.  It simply was not their day to encounter our particular quest.  Sharing it would be our responsibility. .

That night we feasted on grilled fillets, eight shy from the ranch’s pond. Our fishermen ogled over mountaintop photos, and we imagined as best we could landing their catches.  Two different trails with seven different points of view and revelations.  As varied as the colors on a rainbow trout.

So, how’s your journey?  Are you passing on the experience, no matter your location on the trail?  Do you drink in others excursion testimonies and wisdom?  Only God knows which of us will end up walking a similar path. Whether it runs through an easy-going valley or ends up struggling to the peak of an arduous mountain, we need to remember He created them both.

 

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Traveling with the Griswolds….I mean Longs: Pondering the Vacation Experience with Adult Children

 

The idea was hatched last May, when Cliff and I had our first vacation without a kid or four dragging along behind us.  Despite loving the ‘us’ time and the rustic little mountain town of Cuchara, CO, our children still haunted us.  Enough we knew we needed to share the experience with them.

Last week the dream came to pass.  A better trip could not be had.  No breakdowns, everyone relatively healthy, and perfect mountain weather.  Completing our party of our three daughters and son was our son-in-law Karsten. He added another facet to our family’s sparkle.  (For some reason he insisted on taking the family pic at the Coolidge, KS sign instead of us flagging down Cousin Eddie to snap the pic)

Surprisingly, traveling with 20 somethings isn’t that different than when they were tots. 

Priming the argument pump before we left someone shared that Lee Harvey shot Abe Lincoln. (Insert head hang here)  Since we are the History Buff Family that mixed up soul almost got to stay behind and take care of the cat.  

Packing and finally getting everyone out the door was a miracle of epic proportions.  With Cliff tapping his watch, we finally got on the road 15 minutes behind schedule. Of course, our first stop ended up being at the quick shop about a half mile from our house.  I thought Wagon Master Cliff was going to have a heart attack. 

Seven month pregnant Robin took her doctor very seriously to drink lots of water.  Every bathroom and a bush on HWY 10 between La Junta and Walsenburg, CO was inspected by her on the 8 hour drive.   This act of bravery was commended since she was the one who we could never coax, bribe, or threaten to pee outside because ‘a snake might bite my butt.” While she was ‘busy’ everyone would unload, usually followed by ninja moves in the parking lot.

Along the road, other life and death controversies sparked.  Can potatoes and onions be stored in wheat elevators?  Can a prairie dog town really stretch 40 miles?” And my personal fav: Would Jesus wear sunscreen?  Due to traveling in two vehicles we did not have to draw lines down the seats to separate debating parties. 

Cole, who’s life mission has always been to antagonize his sisters, did not leave the quality at home.  Bare, hairy feet were flopped in laps, and he loved suckering them into some farfetched story with a dead pan face, then twisting it to make them the brunt of the joke.  His mission accomplished.

Once we made our destination, we settled in loading all seven of us in the crew cab truck to trek to the area attractions.  It wasn’t so bad, so the next day we trekked to the San Luis Valley.  People squirmed and jostled to get comfortable.  Any excuse to stop landed us taking pictures at the roadside with giant chickens, an enlightening romp through a UFO watch site, and the grandeur of Old LaVeta Pass’s scenery. 

Our cabin was almost as close of quarters.  Seven in cabin built for 4-5 max.  But if that’s what’s available you take it.  Close quarters made for nights of giggles, whispers, and sneaking out for early morning runs.  And disputes over Abe Lincoln’s last hours.  (How he managed to stowaway on this trip is beyond me.)

One evening after a successful trout fishing trip, Cliff grilled mouthwatering delights any gourmet restaurant would be envious of—even leaving the heads on.  Casey dove in, flicking its mouth back and forth and talking in a made up voice.  Robin and Misty were not so friendly with the fish.  Both were gagging and convinced this was the grossest idea ever.  Cliff patiently pulled the meat from the bones, just like when he’d cut their meat for them when they were 4.  “Just try it. One bite,” he persuaded. Rolling up their noses, they cautiously took bites like they were on Fear Factor.  In the end they decided it wasn’t so bad.

We gals retreated to the porch to finish our supper.  Cole opened the screen and in an ultra-calm voice said, “Everyone get inside.  There is a bear behind the cabin.”

A chorus of ‘Yea, right, Cole,” and “Ha-ha, Cole,” chimed together. Over his shoulder, Karsten, popped up, his eyes as big as basketballs.  “There is!”

Immediately our school of trout was forgotten as we scrambled inside.  Voices spiked, and everyone was clamoring over each other, grabbing cameras and fighting to see Gentle Ben out the one dinky window in back.

Sitting back on his haunches, this black bear seemed quite comfortable garbage can diving—like this was one stop on his nightly scavenging route.  He could have cared less if the paparazzi were trying to capture the moment. I got a great shot of my finger. From around the corner came a bigger meaner opponent strode towards the beast.  Cliff waved his spatula and calmly demanded, “Hey you bear.  Get on out of here.”

‘Bubba,’ we later learned his name, sauntered on up the hill. Grabbing cameras Cole and Karsten took off to try to get shots, much to the mama-to-be’s chagrin.  “Don’t you want to meet your child someday?”  But, he was out the door, on a wilderness adventure with his brother-in-law. 

Sadly, the nature boys were too slow, and the sun had had left faster than the terrified bear. But what a great story, they have to tell! (and a claw mark on Cliff’s new truck)

What priceless moments given to us to bond us closer together.  Of course there are many more which I will share at a later date.  In the book An Arrow Pointing Heavenward about the life of Rich Mullins, who wrote Awesome God, there is a great section on family.  A small portion says, “The home is the workshop of God, where the process of character-making is silently, lovingly, imperceptibly carried on. We have families because we are weak creatures, and God knows that we need them.  Through our lives, those people who knew us first are a part of our makeup even if they are difficult to live with.  Old men and women can see their parents in their minds as if it were yesterday. Jamming seven people in a care that seats five may not be comfortable, but it is family.  In the terms of soul shaping it is the most powerful place in the world.”

 

The Place Where Dandelions Belong

While soaking up the view of a meadow below our mountain cabin, my breath was taken away by the scene that only God could orchestrate. The glow on the east ridge slowly increased as the morning did a sneak-attack on the sleeping valley below. Mountain peaks still frosted with snow framed the slopes below with its forest green cape of pines.  A meadow spoke of winter being finally kicked to the curb as a blanket yellow wildflowers put the finishing touches of perfection.  A fishing pond shimmered like a crown jewel in the morning light.  We drank in the dramatic presentation from our VIP seats as we sipped too strong coffee on the porch.  It was a masterpiece frozen in our memories.

Due to the  jolt of caffeine and the itch to shuck off being just bystanders to this display, we wandered down into the meadow.  Walking around the pond, I snapped pictures of every detail I could find.  Rock benches.  A woodshed with a giant daisy painted on it.  A hitching post.   As we strolled around the pond and watched for fish in the crystal clear water, I realized dandelions were the wildflowers that made the masterpiece we had sat in awe of complete.  Really.  Dandelions.

“Cliff, these are… dandelions!” I was astonished.

He looked at me, totally unimpressed and was chalking it up to “Kelly getting her aura again”.   (This was his catchphrase of the trip when I started scribbling or snapping pictures of seemingly insignificant things.)  In our yard at home, he is the 5 star general leading the charge in the war to eradicate any yellow invaders that break the property line perimeter. We spray. We pull. We dig. We panic as we know that their seed will spread like crazy and the roots go clear to China.  In our yard they are not welcome.

But, here, it’s a different story.  This is definitely the place where dandelions belong.  They complete the portrait God had painted.

Do you ever feel misplaced?  Maybe that job you are in, the location where you live, or that very trying relationship.  Health, kid issues, and aging parents are just a few of the stresses that make you believe you don’t belong in this arena of life.  It is sure not fun to be pulled, dug at, and your spirit seems to be being snuffed out a little at a time.  But, make no mistake that you are exactly where God needs you to be at the time.  He uses the situations of our lives to mold and shape us, to bring us closer to him, and to bring attention of who he is to others.

Nothing is more precious than when a child proudly presents one with a grubby handful of dandelions picked with love.  I believe nothing thrills God more than when we embrace that we are dandelion bouquets, trusting that He will use us in a masterpiece created to take the breath away.

“Why, He’d Even Make a Horned Toad Look Purdy!”

Meet Ralph and Neoma.  They have been family friends for a zillion years or more.  Recently they bought a cabin in Colorado and are living the dream in a pine scented paradise.

Last week Cliff and I ventured to what I refer to ‘my mountains’ for a few days of relaxation, recreation, and research.  We were met on a side road over LaVeta Pass by our friends and guided in to what Neoma referred to as “you’re going to think we are taking you to the end of the earth.”  Well, if that is the end of the earth, I would have been the first to sign up on the Chris Columbus Vacation Cruise.  It is a gorgeous log haven-inside and out.  I am glad they had mats to wipe our shoes so none of us slipped in Cliff’s and my drool.

Being the perfect examples of hospitality, we were fed like royalty, enjoyed great conversation, shared old stories and a new one or two.  For dessert we got ‘The Tour”.  We hung out on porches, checked out bathrooms, and learned of upcoming plans they have for the house.  Cliff got bit by a chipmunk that tapped on his leg, demanding sunflower seeds.  Cliff obliged thus giving truth to the phrase ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.’ Then we moved to the conversation pieces like the tale of why a white stuffed goat is protruding out of their fireplace when they aren’t hunters, and caught glimpses of Ralph’s horned toad collection that is scattered throughout the house.

When one has a horned toad collection, a) it’s a great collection to have because no one else on earth has one. b) when one is found it is a great rush since they are rare, c) you don’t end up with 50 bazillion of them and no place for them to go, and d) if someone gives you an ugly one, it fits right in.

So as Neoma and I toured and the guys were off talking about guy stuff, she pointed out a wall hanging in a bedroom of-you guessed it-horned toads.  What? These little quilted guys were intricate works of art.  The color coordinated pieces were masterfully put together and the stitches were the tiniest, most perfect I have ever seen.  My mouth was hanging open, which seemed to be the theme for me during our whole visit, but this time I was speechless (and drool-less) over what I was seeing.  “Rex made this for his dad at Christmas.”  She went on to tell how their son had found the pattern and whipped it together in no time.  This didn’t look like a speedy project.  This was a piece that had been created with love. Before I knew it I found myself climbing on the bed to get some pictures of these unique little masterpieces.  (Neoma will never have us back after I destroyed her house, so I knew I had to snap a picture quick!)

Are there days you feel about as ‘purdy’ as a horned toad?  I’ve got the look going on today myself with no make-up and hair in a wind-whipped pony tail.  The inside is just kind of blah and in a blue funk until………we go to the psalms or the Gospels or Paul’s letters or just about anywhere and we see a God who loves us-warts and all.   Suddenly, we take on an identity of  beauty for we have been stitched together by the Master’s Hand.

PS-If you want to know about the goat, you’ll just have to go visit them yourself.  They have bells to scare off the bears, but watch out for the blood thirsty chipmunks.

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