Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas in Estes Park

This is Dennis and my first Christmas together as husband and wife, and we'll spend it at home in Estes Park. It snowed on Tuesday, so I thought we would have a white Christmas. Silly me. I forgot to figure in the sun. A lot of the snow has melted under its solar power, but there is still some higher up into the mountains.

Even so, I did manage to get some photos of Estes with the pretty white stuff all around. I like this shot of our backyard. . .

These are our Christmas trees. . .
They're right outside our French doors.We didn't put up a tree in our apartment. How could it compete with these trees anyway? 

We had lunch at Poppy's on Wednesday, so while I was there I snapped a picture of Barlow Plaza. Pretty, isn't it?

The river is mostly frozen over. . .

Riverwalk is still pretty though -- even in December on a cloudy day. . .

Dennis proposed to me last Christmas in Columbus, Ohio, where I was living at the time. I came to Estes in January, and we picked out our rings at the Fall River Jewelry and Antique shop. Bob, a gemologist, and Carol, a silversmith, are the owners. They're a wonderful couple, and their shop is one of my favorites. . . .

We attended the Estes Park Community Christmas Eve Service tonight. It was a beautiful service celebrating our Lord's birth. Jesus coming to earth to redeem us is what Christmas is really about. As our speaker tonight said, "It's the greatest story ever lived".

 "For to us a child is born, 
   to us a son is given, 
   and the government will be on his shoulders. 
And he will be called 
   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, 
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
Isaiah 9:6

Merry Christmas. May God bless and keep you.

Friday, December 10, 2010

It's a Wild Life

I've got another cold (the second one in six weeks), which sort of kills creative thinking. I started today's blog three times before deciding just to post some of my favorite wildlife pictures. There's a story in each one.

One day in August I snapped some photos of an open area just north of the park in Estes. I had written a devotional based on Psalm 119:105, "Your word is a light on my path", and wanted a photo of a path with light shining upon it. After I got home and downloaded the photos to my mac, I noticed in one of the shots an elk cow lying in the grass. Can you see her head on the right?
The photo was taken from quite a distance above the meadow, and I had no idea she was down there. Completely unexpected. God delighted me with this surprise. I just love it when He does that.

I've mentioned before that Dennis and I like to drive up into Rocky Mountain National Park for our morning devotionals. The photo I snapped of this buck inspired my Mountain Manna Devotionals, and is the banner photo on that site.

While on an afternoon drive near MacGregor ranch in September, we caught a glimpse of this coyote hunting in the field. Dennis whistled at him and he looked up long enough for me to get this shot. I love the way he blends in with the grass. God does camouflage really well.

On another September day, while Dennis painted the stream in Endo Valley RMNP, I discovered this Hoary Comma (Polygonia gracilis) butterfly along the bank. It was a joy to photograph.

I find birds particularly challenging to photograph. They are either so deeply hidden in the trees that you can't locate them, or they're in the shade, hopping around faster than you can click. This Stellar Jay evaded me for some time before I finally snapped him at lift off.

Of course, I always enjoy photographing our stately elk. Sometimes I'm fortunate enough to find them in my own backyard. Literally. Sitting at my desk writing a couple of weeks ago, I looked up to see a herd coming up the hill behind our apartment. 

The bull watched me from under a nearby tree before following the cows up the hill. Not one for taking chances, I photographed the elk from the safety of our apartment. I did open the french door, though.

The deer like to come through our backyard, too. They're more skittish than the elk, though. I looked up from my writing to see this young'un peeking through our french doors. I grabbed my camera and snapped a shot before he took off. I think he (or she) is pretty cute.

It's such a pleasure to photograph God's creation and share the results here.

"God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good." 
Genesis 1:25

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Common Destiny

My heart is heavy today. I almost don't want to blog, for fear I'll bring you, the reader, down. But this is a subject that everyone faces sooner or later, and maybe by the time you read the last line herein, some good will come your way. This, I pray, will be the case.

We received a call yesterday from a friend. Her husband passed away on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, from injuries sustained in a fall. Listening to her explain what happened between sobs, almost wailing with grief, brought back a flood of memories. May 19, 2007. . .

My husband comes in to the living room, sits down in his favorite chair, convulses, and within minutes -- dies. I try to save him, but I can't. I dial "911". I do what the voice on the other end of the line tells me to do. Jim's heart is still beating at that time. His breathing is shallow. "Keep his head up. Wait for the paramedics. They're on their way." What is taking them so long? He's dying!

When the EMT arrive, Jim has just expired. Two men lift him off the chair while two more push furniture out of the way. They lay him on the floor and rapidly begin working on his body. Ripping open his shirt. Listening for a heart beat and not finding one. Stabbing him with a needle. Placing paddles on his chest and then -- WHOMP! Jim's body responds in a weird kind of contortion. I want to scream at them to stop. You're hurting him! They try again. Listen for a heart beat. Nothing. Paddles and. . .

I can't watch. I literally turn away. This drama isn't what he would have wanted. We talked about it. Discussed it in detail. Oh, that stinking heart! We knew eventually it would give out. 

After ten minutes they find a pulse and put Jim on life support. Then they rush him to the hospital. The next 48 hours are filled with decisions, the last of which is removing the respirator. "There's no sign of brain activity," they tell me. No kidding. I saw him die in our living room. It would have taken a miracle for him to be restored. My God could do it. He just chose not to.

About the loss of her husband, our friend said she "can't live without him". I understand that. I know how that feels. A person you share every molecule of your being with suddenly is taken away and all you can think is "how am I ever going to go on without him." People come to offer sympathy, gift cards and Honey Baked ham. They want to help. And they do. They really do. But there's only so much they can give. Eventually they have to go away. They have their own family to care for. Their own spouse to love, cherish and hold. And boy, right now that's all they can think of doing. That's as it should be. One day they'll have their own spectacular loss to deal with. But not today. By the grace of God, not today.

Our friend said, "I know you know what this feels like." I sure do. It feels like hell. Sorry. But it does. There are nights when you're afraid you'll never stop crying. Days when you're mad. Some well meaning friend says, "Don't cry. He's in a better place." Well, yeah. I get that. Christians have the promise of eternal life. Forgive me, but this isn't about him. It's about me. He got to go home to Jesus and the celebration has begun. Meanwhile, I'm stuck here on earth without my husband, best friend, lover, cheerleader, confidante, and the one person who could make me laugh every day. I want to go home, too. It's not fair.

But who said life is fair? King Solomon, the wisest of the wise, wrote, "All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad,". You won't get any argument from me, Solomon. Bad things happen to good people. All the time. I've seen it.

But here's what someone even wiser than the wisest said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus said that. It's recorded in John 16:33. Oh, and if you look up that scripture you'll find He also said, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace."

After Jim died, someone asked me if I was mad at God. Mad at God? No way. Absolutely not. But I was furious with Satan. See, the devil's the one who ushered in sin and death. Way back in Eden. It was his plan all along. If he couldn't destroy the Almighty, then he'd do the next best thing. Destroy His beloved children. Death wasn't God's idea. He created man and woman for immortality. Satan tried to wreck God's plan, but he underestimated God's power. He always does. God sent His son Jesus to conquer sin and death on the cross. His death, burial and resurrection dealt a mortal blow to Satan and hell. "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace."

I prayed with our friend over the phone. Among other things I asked God to comfort her; help her; guide her; fulfill all her spiritual, emotional, physical and financial needs; bring people into her life who will encourage her; give her rest, and peace. Sweet peace.

There's a particular prayer that I prayed when Jim died. A request that God did not grant. Remember earlier I said I wanted to go home, too? I asked God to arrange transportation, but He had His own plan. Instead of taking me out of the painful situation I was in, He carried me through it. He gave me all the things I prayed for our friend yesterday, and so much more. I know the sweet, gentle Holy Spirit that comes to minister to a broken heart. I know that when I cried out in emotional pain so intense I thought I would pass out, He came and bore the pain for me so that I could go on breathing. Just as Jesus said, "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever," John 14:16

Yesterday I caught a glimpse of God's plan and why I'm still here. Our friend needed to hear from someone who has come through what she is just now entering. She needed to know that there's someone else who understands the pain, disappointment and fear. She needed someone who would pray for her. She needed to know someone else got through it.

But maybe there's another reason why I'm still here. Maybe it's not just about our friend. Maybe there's someone reading this blog right now who's in the middle of something tragic. It's more than you can bare and you're thinking of giving up. Don't. Please don't. God can get you through whatever you're facing. He wants to help you. He wants to lead you through the dark valley to glorious light. He's there. Right there.

If you don't know God, I'd like to give you a place where you can learn more about Him.
The Gospel in Six Minutes

Thanks for hanging in here with me. I'm praying for you.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Count Your Twofers (And Other Blessings)

I love twofers.  Those Buy One - Get One Free specials that come our way every so often. During the winter months in Estes Park, local restaurants offer "Buy One Entree, Get the Second Entree Free" deals. It almost makes me look forward to cold weather. 

Last week we received a twofer for Starbucks. 
"Celebrate the Season with a friend." I like that. My best friend is Dennis and vice versa, so we walked to the local Starbucks together and enjoyed our favorite cafe mochas. This time with a splash of peppermint. Nothing like living on the edge.

This being Thanksgiving week and all, I've been thinking about how God has blessed me, beginning with my twofer buddy. It wasn't that long ago (9 months and 9 days to be exact), that I lived alone. (Well, not completely alone. I did have Tillie the Wonder Dog. But that's a story for another day.) Now I have the joy of waking up every morning to my wonderful husband and looking at this beautiful view from our apartment.

I'm thankful for family. Dennis' kids and mine.

I thank God for the blessing of clean air and water. Some of which I can actually photograph, such as this picture of Fall River.

Of course I'm grateful for the wildlife all around me. Sometimes even in our own backyard -- literally.

We have the blessing of our beloved mountains. To me, this is God's splendor revealed.

I'm thankful that I have the freedom to write every day. 

And that I'm surrounded by my husband's lovely artwork.

I'm also thankful for those of you who take the time to read my blogs. Forgive the cliche, but Joyful Altitude and Mountain Manna Devotionals really are labors of love. I especially am thankful when you leave comments. They encourage me so much.

Finally, I'm most thankful for the love of my Savior, Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on Calvary. If it weren't for Him, I wouldn't be where I am today, and there would be no Joyful Altitude.

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place." 
2 Corinthians 2:14

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What If We Didn't What-If?

It snowed in Estes Park last night. 

What if it never stops?

Do you ever get the what-ifs?  You know what I'm talking about? Those nagging little -- and sometimes not so little -- negative thoughts that bombard you out of nowhere. 

What if someone rummages through my trash, finds that one piece of mail I forgot to shred and steals my identity?
What if I get lung cancer from the secondhand smoke I inhaled 30 years ago?
What if my mother-in-law refuses to come for Thanksgiving dinner?  Actually, that could be a positive thought. (Oh come on, I'm just kidding.)

The what-ifs come at you like a bulldog going after his favorite bone. And often the canine decides to dig for his skeletal treat in the middle of the night. So then you've got the what-if-this-what-iffing-keeps-me-from-ever-going-to-sleep what-if. Quite a conundrum. 

This whole what-if thing started yesterday when I met my good friend and writer pal Dena (she blogs at GodnMe) at Starbucks. We got to talking about life: parenting, marriage, aging and widowhood. Now widowhood is a subject I'm deeply familiar with, having lost my first husband 3 1/2 years ago to a massive heart attack. I didn't really think I'd marry again, but then I met Dennis. (Love has a funny way of changing your mind.) He's eleven years older than me and that's where the what-ifs come in. Statistically, wives outlive their husbands. I've already played the statistics game and lost. What if it happens again? Ouch.

I know from experience, that left unchecked the what-ifs can mushroom into full-fledged worry. Apparently a lot of people struggle with worry, judging by the popularity of the 
Worry is a Robber devotional I wrote on my Mountain Manna website. I'll wager their worry started with a what-if.

So what's my point? Just this. God's given me another wonderful partner in Dennis. Every time I indulge in the what-if something happens to him what-if, I miss the joy of being with my beloved husband right here, right now. But what if I don't what-if?  More Joyful Altitude.

"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." 
Matthew 6:34 (The Message)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

It Takes Three

I've been struck with a rhinovirus.

I could tell you that I have a common cold, but "rhinovirus" sounds much more intriguing. Actually, the way this thing has hit me, I feel more like I was struck by a rhinoceros. I wish I owned a photograph of a rhinoceros, so I could post it here for emphasis, but rhinos don't inhabit Estes Park. Unfortunately, rhinovirus do. 

I've learned a lot about this nasty little bug the past five days. (How did we ever research anything before the internet?) The details would only bore you, so let's just leave it at this. . . I've got my netti pot, hot Tazo mint tea with lemonade and honey (a recipe given to me by my friend at Starbucks), a hefty supply of chicken noodle soup and orange juice (mucho gracias to my beloved husband), and a pile of books and movies. This rhinovirus is doomed.

Ok, enough of all that. Let's get down to business. I usually post weekly photos when I blog, but since I've been quarantined in our apartment the past five days, I haven't been able to get outdoors with my camera. However, I've been looking through my wildlife photographs and found these taken in Big Thompson Canyon about ten days ago. Do you think these Big Horn are making a statement?

Ok, ok. If you don't like that one, how about this photo of a lone ram?

I was thrilled to finally photograph Big Horn sheep. They are stunning animals.

Next week I hope to be back up in RMNP with my hubby, camera in tow. Speaking of my husband, while walking by a new store in town this morning, The White Orchid, a placard in the window caught his eye. The words about Christian marriage written by Tertullian, an early Christian author, made quite an impression on him. When he got home he told me what he had read, and we looked up the text on the internet. The words were written by Tertullian around 200 AD in a letter to his wife:

How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice.

They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in Spirit. They are in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit.

They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another.

Side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another, they never shun each other's company; they never bring sorrow to each other's hearts… Psalms and hymns they sing to one another.

Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present, and where He is, there evil is not.

We printed off the words and posted them on our refrigerator door. It's a visual reminder of the kind of marriage Dennis and I are committed to have. We can't do it by ourselves. Christ must be at the center of our  union. It takes three.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Peaceful Existence

Our peace shall stand as firm as rocky mountains. -- William Shakespeare

I've been thinking a lot about peace lately. Not as in world peace, but rather as it relates to me as an individual.  "Simple pleasures" has been a theme on this blog in the past, and I believe that it is the simple pleasures in life that help promote a peaceful existence. 

We certainly enjoyed a peaceful afternoon yesterday at the Red Barn Pumpkin Farm in Eaton, Colorado. 

The owners, friends of ours, sent us home with a nice collection of pumpkins and other Fall goodies. 

As much as we enjoy trips to the Front Range, it always feel good to get back home. Dennis commented yesterday that we're "mountain people", and I have to agree. There's just something about high altitude living that appeals to us. We enjoy the peaceful environment and count ourselves fortunate to be so close to Rocky Mountain National Park, which never disappoints.  

Take this morning, for instance. We grabbed our Starbucks and drove to the Park, arriving just as the sun was coming up.

The red glow through the golden aspen was stunnng.

I was very excited to see this bull and his harem. It's the largest herd I've seen to date. Dennis says he's seen harems as large as 700, about 10 times larger than this one.

We had seen this crowd earlier, but the herd was so spread out then that I couldn't get a good shot of all of them together. 

I did enjoy snapping this photo of a few of the cows in the water, though.

While photographing the herd, I noticed another bull approaching the harem. He had been bugling from a distance, but now was closing in on the cows. The defending bull made a beeline for the challenging bull.

The challenger left with little fanfare. (Hey, let's face it. The defending bull didn't get a harem this size on charm alone. He had to be a formidable opponent.) 

Now the owner of the harem begins bugling to round up his girls. (I wonder if this guy gets any peace.)

On the outskirts of the herd, the young bulls -- or "spikes" as they're called -- spar and hang out together. Their time will come. (The spike hunkered down in the grass looks pretty peaceful.)

These beautiful rose hips in Endovalley spoke peace to me.

"Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord." 2 Peter 1:2