Thursday, May 31, 2007

waterfall weekend

I'm sure it saddened Pedro a bit, but last weekend was mostly a hiking weekend for me. On Saturday, we hiked up Cheyenne Canyon to St. Mary's Falls. The hike was beautiful and strenuous. The weather smiled on us until about halfway back, when the smile turned down and all we could say was, "What the hail?" That's the second time in a week I've been pelted by frozen bb's. I came away from the day a little wet and with a badly bruised knuckle, but smiling from the adventure.

(On the way up to St. Mary's Falls, this peak taunted me the whole time. It was far too late in the day to go past the falls, but I sure as heck was tempted.)

On Sunday, after church, we hit a trailhead that leaves straight from Green Mountain Falls. This one far exceeded my expectations, definitely one of those hikes that is less about destination and more about the beauty along the way. The trail follows a cascading stream and leads up a steep, shady, and root-woven mountain. In fact, I couldn't tell exactly which falls we were supposed to be looking for--that water was a-fallin' the whole way! This time I came away having bashed a different knuckle, and with a mystery rip in the rear of my pantalones, but again I was grinning like a kid in a candy store.

Key thought from the weekend? Thank God for waterfalls and shaded forests and unruly roots and granite peaks, and for friends to exlpore them with.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

now that's hilarious

You know that stuff about there being only one rule in the Garden of Eden? You know, just don't eat from that tree? Apparently, there were a few other provisos that the author of Gensis may have failed to mention...

small town Sunday: only in Greece

Only in Greece, we learned on Sunday, should one teach a children's sermon involving Greek words. In celebration of Pentecost (or perhaps just coincidentally), a new banner hung at the front of the church, a golden cloth with the word "agape" written on it. When the pastor asked the kids (who were apparently totally wired for the day) what it said, there were several fumbled answers, followed by one very bright girl who replied, "it says agape" (as in, my mouth hung agape as I watched him try to teach Greek to tots). After informing them of its true pronunciation, he moved on to ask them what language it was:

No. (but great guess, eh?)
(Too much laughter to allow for a no.)

He finally gave up and just told them it was Greek.

His eventual goal, you see, was for them to know that agape love is how we are to love one another, and that it is a different kind of love from loving our toys. This in itself almost backfired when he asked a little girl if she loved her mom more than her plastic pony. No, the little girl told us quite plainly, she did not. Then, within a few sentences, the pastor managed to mention the word candy, and it was a total loss from there. At one point, he actually looked out at us and asked with a smile, "What would you do right now if you were me?" When the kids finally left to go to Sunday school, he laughed with us about how unpredictable children's sermons can be. But before moving on, he paused, and his face turned thoughful and serious; "Thank God," he proclaimed, "that things don't always go as planned. Thank God that he surprises us." We were all struck by it, and I realized that sometimes the children's sermon ends up being for the adults, too.

In the sermon, he bravely spoke about hip hop music to a crowd of small town (and partly grey haired) mountain folks. "You may not listen to it," he said, "but your children and grandchildren do." He talked of the typical hip hop protagonist, the "player", and how our disdain for such characters is somewhat compromised by our own likeness to them. We, too, he challenged, find ourselves characterized by manipulating things to our own pleasure, our own ends. Disciples, he reminded us, are to be odd, to be different. We are not to fit the cultural mold of self-satisfying players, and yet we so often do. He quoted Flannery O'Connor: "Then you will know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd."

As he finished, his final sentence almost echoed: "Now I say to you, players, may the disturbance of Christ be with you." The weight of his words lingered for a moment as music began to play and the service moved on.

Bill came in late and sat right behind us (a friend joined me this week). "Just in time," he said out loud as the offering plate came his way. He told us later that he had rushed back from Breckenridge (where he had gone to see a grandson graduate) and hadn't quite had time to put on his "church duds". He showed us the cane that his son gave him in an effort to make him walk less hunched over. Turning it upside down and taking a golf stance, he grinned and explained to us that it would be better used as a putter. Inside, I was smiling at the joy of his company.

Agape. I sensed it from Bill that morning, and I sensed it in the pastor's words. It came through in the many hi's and glad to see you's. I'm sure it was present over the coffee I didn't have time to stick around for. That place, that little church in Green Mountain Falls, is full of agape--enough to leave your mouth agape.

my trip to Greenland

Greenland Open Space, that is. Twice this week, I have had the chance to go riding in this beautiful place near Palmer Lake. It is such an idyllic landscape. On my ride today, you could see the wildflowers starting to bloom. I'll have to post some more pictures someday, but here is a little taste!

The evening sun on the rolling hills. The shadows and light each evening are awesome.

Kipps Loop is my favorite. It passes the prettiest little pond, with a great bench next to it.

Carrie rides ahead of me on the smooth single track.

The tracks run next to the open space, and actually just make it more picturesque.

This sign cracks me up. Apparently the citizens and pets of Palmer Lake qualify as wildlife.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

little by little

"I just want to be done with it."

I've said those words so many times. When I am reminded of a sin struggle that seems to drag on and on, it's all I can think to say: I just want to be done with it. I often feel at a loss to understand why God doesn't pull us out of battles against sin when we are pleading with him. I don't understand why some things seem to show back up at my door no matter how many times I have tried to slam and lock it, perhaps even change my address. Leave me in loss, leave me in challenge, leave me in need...ok, that seems hard but perhaps more understandable. But leave me floudering against sin? I just don't always get that part.

Recently I came face to face with an old struggle, probably among the top 3 "just want to be done with it"s in my life. I was frustrated and discouraged. Then I did my homework. I did my Pentateuch homework, that is, reading Exodus for the sake of answering a bunch of questions. I was probably avoiding thinking about my struggles, honestly. Still, there in the middle of a task that wasn't much about looking for life lessons, God chose to speak. He chose to speak directly to the heart of me, to the place that was begging to be done with the battle against sin.

As God is preparing his people to enter the Promised Land, he says these words:

"I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run. I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way. But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. " (Exodus 23:27-30)

The same basic words are actually repeated later in Deuteronomy. Apparently, it has been the human condition for a long time now, this wanting to have victory and to be done with the battle ASAP. God knew that the Israelites were probably expecting (or at least hoping for) him to step in and wipe out all obstacles as soon as they set foot in the land. So he graciously tells them ahead of time: "I'm not going to do this as quickly as you'd like me to. This might seem like a long battle at times. You're probably going to feel like I'm not making good on my promises. But believe me, I alone know how strong you need to be before you can really take this land, and I will not set you up for disaster by giving it to you before you are ready." It brings to mind some words Jesus spoke once: "In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Take heart, though the troubles will be persistent. Take heart, because I am the victor in the end. It reminds me, too, of a Proverb: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding."

I often look out at the enemies I must go up against to conquer the land, and I feel small and weary. Sometimes I do feel like maybe God isn't making good on his promises. But then, perhaps I didn't hear those promises quite right: "Katie, I have good, good land to give you. I have blessings and freedom in store. But I want you to know that the battle will seem long sometimes. I want you to trust me to make you ready."

That promise gives me hope. It makes me want to seek him even when the battle seems to be taking forever, so that he can do whatever work must be done to make me ready to claim that good land. I want to let him make me ready for the amazing and loving plans he has in store. It doesn't always make sense. I most certainly don't always like it. But I need to trust that this little by little will someday bring me home.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

small town Sunday: the heart grows fonder

I originally planned to title this post, "bedside Baptist". That was the old joke around my college when we didn't make it to church some weekend. Sadly, two nights of terrible sleep and a paper due the next day made me realize it was unwise to get up earlier than absolutely necessary this Sunday.

Now, I have been able to feel myself grow more and more attached to Green Mountain Falls and my little church there. But my disappointment in missing it this week made it all the more sure: I am in love with small town Sundays. I love feeling myself calm down as I turn off the highway and pull into town. Last week, I had to slow down so as not to hit some folks walking right down the middle of the road. That, I have always thought, is the sign of a good town--walking down the middle of main street and not being crazy to do so.

I love the familiar faces as I look around the sanctuary: the choir in their blue and white robes, the elderly woman who sits up front so she can wear earphones in order to hear the service, the twins coloring and chattering behind me. I love the coffee hour, and am even developing a taste for church coffee (notriously nasty in small town churches). I love being called by name, and being able to return the gesture.

I am sad that this summer will include so many Sundays away (the summer schedule is getting packed!). I'll have to collect some stories to tell along the way. For this week, I figured I'd just offer some pictures I've taken as I've meandered around town. Meandering, of course, is just the thing to do on a restful small town Sunday.

These are obviously taken a couple months ago. The lake is thawed now and glittering with sunlight when I drive in each week.

The local motel. There are lots of nice cabins and things, too, but I love the character of this place.

Green Mountain Falls' most popular restaurant, The Pantry. Amazing food, and home to the exuberant waitress I told you about.

The Sheriff's office. Doesn't it just make you think Mayberry?

My two favorite cars to see parked around town (in second place is the truck with a frog stuck on the hood)

Monday, May 14, 2007

small town Sunday: what mothers are for

Mother's Day in Green Mountain Falls. At church, the children's sermon served as a reminder that kids are almost never going to give the answers you think are obvious. The Pastor began this week's mini-message by asking, "Now, you guys know what today is, right?" His question was answered enthusiastically, the kids' voices in unison: "It's Sunday!" Only a second later did one little voice add, "Oh, Oh...and it's Happy Mother's Day, too."

The pastor moved on to ask the kiddos what it is that mothers are for, what sorts of things they do. One tiny girl, after an almost endless series of um's, told us quite plainly that moms exist to feed you and to clean your room. Another boy chimed in to mention that mothers are there to pay the bills so you have somewhere to live. (Seriously, what kid under 10 thinks of that? Let's hope he's not one of the ones who will be giving the same answer at age 30.) The pastor finally recieved his segway when a little girl said with great innocence, "Mom's are there to teach us how to be good and to believe in God." In the world of Mother's Day children's sermons, that answer is the equivalent of saying "Jesus" in Sunday School.

Despite the service holding some good laughs for me, the real highlight of this small town Sunday was the coffee hour afterward. Remember the old man who steals kids' lemonade? Well, this week I plopped down next to him at one of the plastic tables in the fellowship hall. We were both sipping coffee and dining on Mother's Day cake (yes, I finally got some cake) as he introduced himself and began to tell me stories, all the while offering his big, wrinkled smile and easy laugh.

Bill (or Mr. Bill, as the kids call him) has spent the last 21 years worth of mornings down at Ute Pass Elementary school, just to be there with the kids and help out around the school. "They just won't graduate me," he told me with a grin. Having originally come to Colorado because he was stationed at Fort Carson, Bill spent 25 years as the fire chief in Green Mountain Falls. He also spent many of those years as the director (and pretty much every other position) at a local boy's ranch, being a father to boys who needed one. He served as a Cub Scout leader for eons, whether for the boys at the ranch or for his own sons, a position which he said led to more ascents of Pike's Peak than anyone would really care for. On his first trip, he told me, he sat down for a rest not far from the top, only to be passed by a man in his 70's: "Next thing, I looked up and saw that the person blazing up after that old man was an old woman! I said to myself, 'Bill, you'd better get off your bottom and get to the top of this thing.'"

As I sat there eating my cake (he said he was eating his piece in honor of his mom), I just felt blessed to be able to talk with a man whose many long years are brimming with so much life, so many stories. Though he is a widower with an aging body, Bill is full of more joy and vitalty than most of my 20-something peers. He is a treasure.

I may never run into him on Pike's Peak, but the scenario seems familiar all the same: Bill is that old man who passes by with enthusiasm and vigor, and leaves you thinking, "Man, I'd better get off my bottom and start living some good stories to tell."

Friday, May 11, 2007

at least there weren't tigers and bears

“I should have brought a knife.”

He said no more, but I knew without asking what he was thinking, and it unsettled me. The threat had seemed a little more manageable when I was the only one who had thought of it. I mean, I could have been exaggerating, right? But Chris is far more logical than I, and now he was admitting that the possibility had entered his mind, too.

“Do you think mountain lions hang out in dark places during the day?”

“I don’t know, maybe. They’re nocturnal, right?”

“I don’t know.”

I didn’t like that we didn’t know. Yes, he should have brought a knife. We picked up rocks instead.

Since leaving the car an hour or so earlier, Chris and I had been making our way down an abandoned railroad bed, which passes through a series of six tunnels as it meanders across the mountain face beside highway 24. The first four tunnels aren’t anything daunting. They’re short and well lit, so they have a sort of open feeling. The only risk in those tunnels is getting wet from the water seeping through the cracks high above, or perhaps being startled by an equally startled bird.

Earlier in the hike, we had talked about rattlesnakes, and Chris mentioned that he likes to mess with them. I had told him that he is the reason people get bitten by snakes. I found myself wondering if the rock in his hand was to fight off an angry cat, or to mess with it.

The fifth tunnel is sort of a transition. It is long, and though we could see the end from not too far in, there were still moments where we had been blind, walking carefully through stifling darkness. Our flashlight was fairly useless, save for illuminating the next few steps to help avoid tripping. Our reentry into daylight was one of both relief and exhilaration.

Now we were headed into the longest and darkest of the tunnels, which I remembered being blocked off about halfway in (I had done the hike once before). Rocks of defense in hand, we entered the darkness slowly to allow our eyes to adjust. This tunnel was full of junk—an old box spring, a scrap of carpet, a dead bird. We picked our way through it until we reached the barrier to the rest of the tunnel, just some chain link fencing. Getting closer, we saw that someone had cut an opening through it since I was last in the tunnel. A quick scan with the flashlight revealed even more junk covering the ground on the other side of it.

“We probably shouldn’t go back there.”

“Do you just not want to walk around all that junk?” (Believe it or not, the idiot suggesting we continue on is me).

“You want to see what's back there? I guess we could try it.”

Chris stepped through the opening and into the second half of the tunnel. After reminding him to shed some light on my own steps, I followed behind. Just inside, I heard sound and figured it was the traffic from the highway. We took another couple steps. The sound came again, and I slowed a little. It was a strange sound for traffic. I listened more closely.

When the noise came a third time, we froze in our tracks.

From somewhere in the darkness, not far ahead, came a distinctly feline growl. We had our answer: yes, mountain lions do hang out in dark tunnels. No, they do not like being awakened from afternoon naps. Yes, we were leaving. We walked back through the barrier slowly and began to pick up the pace. Someone suggested running, but we remembered after only a few quickened steps that running is supposed to be the worst thing to do. In fact, we were supposed to be backing away while maintaining eye contact, but we decided walking quickly would do. Thankfully, a nervous glance over my shoulder revealed that we didn’t seem to have a stalker.

Stepping back out into the light, I breathed a sigh of relief, glad to be putting distance between us and the angry cat.

“Oh yeah, that’s going on the blog,” I said, expecting us to continue away from the tunnel.

Chris was less focused on relief, or on retreat for that matter.

“That was…..AWESOME!!! I wonder if we can get up above and see it from the other side”

I thought back to the rattlesnakes, and to the rock in my hand. Any doubt that had been there before was now removed: Chris and I do not have the same instinct when it comes to avoiding deadly animals.

Maybe I’m the one that should have brought a knife.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

not since the playground...

...have I been tagged so much! This time, instead of being challenged to post a groggy mug shot, I have been tagged to post 8 random things about myself. Here we go:

1. My very first instrument was the violin, which I started to play when I was a wee lass. I loved it, but didn't have the discipline to practice. Not to mention, there are few things like a screeching violin in the hands of a seven year old to drive a parent insane. Sometimes I wish I'd stuck with it, but I guess some strings just aren't meant to be--heh heh.

2. I haven't actually been a mountain biking fanatic for as long as you might guess. A couple years ago, I broke my toe (tripped over a dumbbell), which put a serious damper on an active hiking schedule. Pedaling a bike, however, can be done without putting too much pressure on the little digit. Long before the toe was fully healed, I had fallen in love with biking. Now I'm that lunatic that sings to her bike named Pedro: "God bless the broken toe that led me straight to you."

3. One of my favorite college memories is playing quarterback for my intramural flag football team. My freshman year, I was on a team called Rowdy, but I spent the remaing years on a team originally called Single (followed by Still Single our junior year, and Last Chance when we were seniors). The nicknames printed on our shirts followed the theme. For those first two years, I was "No Hurry". During our year as Last Chance, however, I was "Exp052403", aka: expiration May 24, 2003--my graduation date.

4. I'm a huge fan of the fine arts. Though most people know I write and love photography, I also used to compete vocally, and I was part art major in college. Going to great choral or dance performances, visiting art shows, and seeing fantastic theater--these are a few of my favorite things. Sadly, I do it far less often than I used to.

5. I am a Colorado girl to the core. I was born and raised in the Roaring Fork Valley (where Aspen is), where my dad owned an apres ski bar and restaurant on Snowmass Mountain. I was on skis before I was out of diapers (literally) and a good portion of my childhood memories involve camping with my family or just playing around my mountain neighborhood. One of my dad's best friends (and my pseudo uncle) was Mr. Rocky Mountain High himself, John Denver. Yes, I spent a few years away, but Colorado always calls me home.

6. I lived in Hawaii for a whole year and never learned to surf. I was working for the Baptist Collegiate Ministries, surrounded by surfing students, but I was always a little freaked out by the idea of paddling out to the reef. I body surfed the shore break instead (Waimea Bay was my favorite), and got a year's worth of learning just how much sand can fit into one swimsuit. What I miss most about Hawaii, however, has nothing to do with the beach. It's the food--there are so many things there that you just can't find anywhere else. Mmmm...manapua.

7. The only bones I've ever broken were in my face (save for the aforementioned toe). When I was in fifth grade, I was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, and managed to get smacked in the face with a golf club--caught the swing on the full follow through. Let's just say that it took few hours of surgery to put things back in place.

8. I have a huge desire to go to Iceland, though I know it's a little random. Perhaps its the explorer in me (I LOVE to explore), but the place just intrigues me. Glaciers, natural hot springs, cute fishing's the stuff vacations and honeymoons and exploration are made of.

The rules of this game, as passed on to me: Each person starts with 8 random facts/habits about themselves. People who are tagged need to write their eight things and post the rules. At the end of your blog, tag eight people and list their names. Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

I'll leave it up to my readers to consider themselves tagged, though a few of you know that I'll be looking....

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

rise and shine

Morning's mine. This is ala a challenge from Carrie (who recieved the challenge from someone else) to post a picture of yourself first thing in the morning. For most people, that means pre-makeup etc. For me, that mainly just means pre-clothes change. Still, I struggled with this more than I anticipated--funny thing is, it's not so much my morning face I'm afraid of. It's what the camera can do to it! Note the groggy eyes: They are the last to wake up each morning.
I pass on the challenge to any who struggle to believe they are beautiful until they've done a little remodeling. A great deal of true beauty comes simply from courage, so take that morning pic and post it proudly!

small town Sunday: townsfolk

It is a storyteller's gold mine, Green Mountain Falls. If you are struggling to dream up quirky characters, people that a reader will fall in love with, you'll find plenty within those small town city limits. At least, I know I'm falling in love with them.

Of course, there's Oscar, the 90 year old feisty Swede whom I encountered walking around the lake when my parents came to visit. We met him as we made our way toward the local cafe, where we were served by a lively woman with the most classic diner voice I have ever heard: loud, a little raspy, and full of "honey" and laughter. She served me what might be the best cornbread I've ever eaten.

At church, I often sit behind one of my favorites--a quiet, unassuming local artist whose face provides a sort of comforting familiarity. This week she was next to an elderly British woman who is full of questions, and who told me this week how much she loves retirement. When she first met me, she immediately tried thinking of ways to help fund my rather expesive education. None of the ideas panned out, of course, but I was delighted in her effort none the less.

During the coffee hour, you'll see an old man, hunched over but full of life, who sneaks up behind unsuspecting kids and pretends to steal their lemonade. They all know him and laugh. Meanwhile, twin 8 year old boys run around looking for mischief and usually finding it. Even better are the twin 2 year olds--a boy and a girl-- who often sit closeby during the service. The girl is shy but smiley. Her brother just chats away, oblivious to prayer or Scripture reading or song. It reminds me a lot of my own brother and me, though we aren't twins.

One of the quirkest characters is a middle aged woman from New Jersey. She hasn't lost an ounce of the accent, nor of the personality for that matter. She told me once her dream would be to become a missionary, though her husband would never go for the idea. I smile as I think of it; The only way to truly paint the picture would be to title it, "My Cousin Vinny Goes Evangelical". I hope she gets that dream someday.

I am starting to find comfort in this town full of eccentrics. They begin to feel like home the way an old rocking chair does. Those in the that tiny church cannot be united by social or economic homogeniety, or by a common age group, as is the case in so many churches. No, they are a band of characters held together by the glue of Christ and small town hearts.

When the ties that bind are as simple as that, it's no wonder that a stranger like me can so quickly feel at home.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

seasons of the soul

Spring has come. Sunshine and rain take turns in the process of bringing everything to back to life. The tree outside our house is blooming in pinks and reds, and the grass required mowing yesterday. I ride my bike in a t-shirt and shorts again. Yes, spring has come and with it the annual rejoicing that the cold of winter has passed.

I have often told people that my spiritual life tends to follow the seasons. Spring and summer generally mark times of joy and growth, which fade into a time of reflection in the fall. Then comes winter, usually a time of refining and forging character, and at times a sort of dark night of the soul. Some would blame it on the weather. Either way, it is how things go with me.

My first year in Colorado Springs very much followed that pattern. The summer months before actually leaving Glenwood were some of the richest I have known. I delighted in time outside, in a job I loved, and in amazing relationships. The fall brought the natural reflection and beginning sadness of adjusting to a new place, with few friends and a new sort of schedule. In the winter, I had spine surgery and spent the following cold months recovering in more ways than one. The warming was a slow one after that, but it was steady. Spring came, and brought with it renewal and hope.

But the summer of my heart was a short one.

Sandwiched between a series of three deaths in a matter of few months, I faced one of the most painful and heart-deadening experiences I have ever walked through. I was hurt in a way deeper than I have known in many years, if ever. I was alone and slowly dying on the inside. By the end of the summer, and even into the fall and winter, it was all I could do to keep my head above water. There had been many joyful moments throughout the summer, yes--but it was most of all a dark, dark night of the soul.

My head is back above water finally, but I guess you could say my seasons are a little off. Still, I believe it's time for them to be changing. It's time for air that smells like rain, flowers in bloom, sunshine on my face. I have already heard peals of thunder threaten in the distance. The enemy desires to steal another summer from my heart. I pray for spring instead, for new growth and rejoicing. And then for summer.

Yes, Father. Let this year bring your summer to my soul.