Red Flags and Tiny Yellow Flowers


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I didn’t plan it, but this year my vacation turned into an epic road trip that will probably keep me smiling for the rest of my life.  The only plan I made was to drive my kids back to Colorado, and then visit family in Wyoming.  The rest of the adventure was completely spontaneous; every single day experienced with no preconceived plan, or agenda – just my camera, a cooler full of bottled water, and my trusty little GPS.

After all the visiting was done, I struck out on my own, dead set on reaching the top of the nearest mountain.  It sounded so simple – only 20 miles away – but then I noticed that my GPS had projected an arrival time of 3 hours in the future.

Have you ever made up your mind so completely to do something that you fail to notice those little red flags that start popping up?  Now I’ll admit, this is not the first time I’ve done that.  I’m a boundary-pusher by nature so I’ll ignore the red flags until I can’t ignore them anymore.  And there have indeed been times when I wished I hadn’t; but more often than not, what I end up discovering is that the boundaries are actually quite a bit further out than what I had first supposed.

Well, it took almost 5 hours to make it to the top of the mountain.  After spending 2 hours on a particularly crude logging road, it abruptly stopped – blocked by fallen trees, and I had to turn around and go back.  And what was really intimidating was the complete absence of other people.  (As an aside, this is why I stick with Jeep products)  But I did make it to the top of the mountain.  After several hours of intense off-road driving, I made it.  And that kind of set the tone for the remainder of the trip.

After that, it seemed every place I went, I somehow had to earn it, but then the rewards would be huge.  I sat on top of the world, alone, the only human for miles, and while it took some pretty big risks to get there, it was the most humbling and soul-clutching experience imaginable.

On another mountaintop, 4 more hours away, I stood next to a field of snow that was surrounded by tiny little yellow flowers.  Snow, in the hot July sun, surrounded by millions of tiny little yellow flowers.  And the snow was untouched.  There was not one single foot print in that snow.  It wasn’t mandated; there were no signs saying “keep off the snow,” yet everyone who made it to that spot agreed, this snow-covered ground was sacred.  I immediately thought of Moses on the mountaintop, standing before God, who said to him, take off your sandals you fool; can’t you see you are standing on Holy ground?

As I made my way across the jagged and raw beauty of the landscape, I noticed how boundaries expanded and barriers seemed to melt in the desert heat.  Without the protective padding of civilization, one learns the cooperative ways of nature.  Atoms and cells working together to form rocks, rocks and soil working together to form ground, ground and vegetation working together to form mountains…trees protecting birds, cool holes protecting prairie dogs and rattlesnakes…

Humans are the only species to cut themselves off from the flow of life.  We seal ourselves up in cities and towns, homes and cars, creating boundaries and erecting barriers, all in an effort to forget that we are fragile creatures, leading a fragile existence.

Sometimes we have to push boundaries and climb mountains in order to remember that like the tiny little yellow flowers surrounding the snow –

we are here now;

we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,”

and it’s all Holy ground,

all the time,

everywhere.

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The Grace of Dark


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Romans 7: 14-15

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin.  I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 

I have a never-ending fascination with light.  All it takes is one tiny splash of sunlight on something and I can’t stop staring at it.  If I have my camera handy, time ceases to exist as I capture whatever is being graced by the light for as long as the moment will allow.  I especially love it when I encounter a single leaf in the woods touched by a tiny ray of sunlight – I’ll often wonder, now why did that leaf get picked out of all the other leaves?

But – and this is interesting – I am only spellbound by light that is illuminating something that would otherwise be dark.  I am not in love with light for the sake of light, and more light is never better.  A sunny day can be made up of a lot of harsh glare, and in that case the light loses a significant part of its appeal.  So what this tells me is that the best light is light that is defined by darkness, and when shadow and light work together, that is the sweet spot.

We struggle to do better, and to be better people.  Yet sometimes we go dark.  Sometimes we go really, really dark; and it’s scary and perplexing.  We don’t want to do the things we’re doing, but we seem powerless to stop.  We spiral out of control, and like Paul we question, why is this happening?

For me it’s helpful to think of that single leaf in the woods receiving its very own ray of sunshine.  We don’t know why everything goes dark around us sometimes, but I do know that catching a ray of light is about the most grace-filled thing that can happen; and after all is said and done, the confusion of the darkness is worth the grace of the light.

A Filter of Gratitude


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I woke up this morning feeling grateful.  I try to make that my first feeling most days.  That way, when memories come flooding back of the previous days disappointments, they have to go through my “grateful filter” first.

I have a lot to be grateful for – even on my worst days.  I’m grateful for waking up, first and foremost.  It’s a cosmic do-over, I think, to wake up and start fresh.  A clean slate, another shot at it.

I’m grateful for waking up and feeling good – most days anyway.  I have no difficulty breathing or standing and walking; I have all ten fingers and toes.  I can move from point A to point B unassisted.  Yes, it is going to be a good day indeed.

I’m grateful for waking up, feeling good and having the luxury of lying in a bed, in my own home, in a safe neighborhood, listening to the trash haulers do their work, the birdsong in the trees and contemplating what to wear from my sizeable collection of outerwear.  What’s the weather like?  Is it raining?  Should I wear my rain boots or should I wear sandals?

I’m grateful for waking up, feeling good, having the luxury of lying in a bed and the time to say a prayer.  I don’t wake up after a night of terror only to discover that the day will look pretty much the same as the night.  I am not a slave or an illegal immigrant living in fear of the law; nor do I live in a refugee camp or a war torn country.  I am not a victim caught up in the prison industrial complex; I am not even a so-called minority waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I woke up this morning feeling grateful.  I try to make that my first feeling most days so that the rest of my day slips into the proper perspective.  I don’t always pull it off, but I keep practicing.