Saturday, August 10, 2013


This is a poem/story I wrote while in the silence of the Badlands. 
The amazing photography is compliments of Brie Elliot. 

Once upon a time I built a castle
On the shore of a great blue sea.
I built it with shovel and pail and a little salt water
And I adorned it with the choicest seaweed and shells.

I was so pleased, that I showed it to You. 
"Isn't it grand?" I asked. "Almost as tall as me!"
And aren't the shells lovely? And do you like 
My swirly-curly carvings and the candy striped towers? 

You smiled and nodded with patience and grace,
"It is quite lovely. But I want to show you something. 
Follow me westward, further up and deeper in
To see what I have in my innermost heart."

And so we traveled west together. 
And You taught me your songs and told me your tales, 
And pointed out details I never would have seen
And just when I thought I knew everything about You...

You brought me here and showed me your castles
Like mine, they were made of sand, but far more grand. 
They were grounded deep and firm on solid rock
And they rose so high above me I could barely see the tops. 

And so many! To the far horizon and beyond
They collided and tumbled over each other
Mounds, buttes, towers, buttresses, and spires
All vying for space and glory. 

"I have made all of this," You said to me, 
"And I want to share it with you. 
Will you leave your sandcastle behind
And come live here among mine?"

For a curiously prideful reason, I resisted. 
Yours were far more magnificent and wild than mine
But I'd rather have what I designed, created, and controlled. 
My sandcastle was small, but it was my very own. 

I wasn't willing to give it up - at least, not yet
So I asked to return to the seashore
And You patiently traveled with me to the east, 
And stood back, letting me approach my castle alone. 

The tide had begun to pull the ramparts into mud
And the lacy seaweed had begun to wilt
The candy-striped spirals were dry and crumbling
And I regretted clinging so tightly to this lump of sand. 

I grabbed my tools and tried to replicate Your handiwork.
I dug deeper foundations and tried to pile higher towers,
I thickened the walls and tried to fortify them,
But everything I tried, failed and fell short. 

That's when You invited me again to Your innermost heart
To admire and climb and dwell in Your sandcastles
This time I said yes and we returned together
And You gave me a precious gift.

"All of my castles I share with You," You said. 
"But here is one I made especially for you.
It has the choicest seashells and seaweed
And swirly-curly carvings and candy-striped towers."

It was true - before me was a castle I had dreamed of,
Complete with every precious detail, but better. 
It was taller and mightier and more firmly grounded
The walls were solid, and the colors majestic.

You took the things most loved and cherished in my hopes
And mixed them with Your strength, beauty and glory
You designed a plan that is the delight of both of our hearts,
And gave me a dream that is now hidden in Yours.

~ "Sandcastles"

Friday, August 9, 2013

You'll Find Your Way

The night we spent in Glacier National Park is quickly becoming a legend and a favorite fireside/bedtime story around here... but I don't want to forget what was going on in my heart that night. So while it isn't as thrilling and amusing as "The Story," I'm gonna write it down, if for no other reason than I need to remember it... 

We were driving on the Going-to-the-Sun Road through the park after sunset. At first I thought it was getting cloudier and foggier, but then I realized we were climbing mountains and entering into the high clouds. Shadows grew, and the headlights of the van would only show us where we were going and not really what was around us or what we were coming through. We knew the road did not have guard rails, and we had the mountain on our left and the edge dropping off to a great depth below us to our right... I looked out my passenger side window and gasped as I couldn't see the valley floor below us. While we slept in the car on the side of the road, we didn't know where we were or what the view was ten feet in front of us. There was something very powerful and deep about that darkness and stillness, the height and vastness of the unknown that we slept in. 

The next morning, we went back down that road, so we could see all the things we couldn't see in the night. We came back to the construction site, now patched up and open, and saw that where we had parked was facing an incredible view: 

Maybe we would have been freaked out and terrified if we had known where we were, how one careless and foolish move (and we had already taken too many) could have taken us over the edge to our death, and no one would ever have known. Or maybe we wouldn't have rested and slept as we needed to because we were too excited, too much in awe, knowing it was too beautiful, too big, too much... That day, looking out over that view, my heart was breaking, and I couldn't tell you why. 

I think God sometimes keeps us in the shadows, veils what surrounds us, and gives us a headlight just bright enough to show us the small space ahead of us where he wants us to go. He knows our hearts, he knows what we can bear, and he shields us from the greatness of what he is doing, so that we will steadily obey and trust him without becoming too overwhelmed. But his plan and his work is still there - much bigger and more dangerous (but good) than we could ever know. And when we are faithful to walk and rest in him, sometimes he gives us a glimpse, to remind us that it isn't just about us... it's about Him.... just to renew our hope and awe and wonder... possibly even to break our hearts again. 

I mentioned before that we listened to Andrew Peterson's album, "Light for a Lost Boy," as we drove through the night. This album came out last year, and honestly I haven't listened to it much... it's not the kind of CD you can bounce to in the car as you bash around town, or you play in the morning to get you pumped for the day. I tried both settings, and it just felt too serious, and I couldn't quiet my heart enough to listen to the words and appreciate it for what it holds. AP has a deep soul... every album he writes is from his heart, so I think I had to wait for a time when I was ready to listen to his heart and find out what God was doing there. I got to that point as we climbed 8,000 feet into the clouds and shadows and blind curves of one of the most beautiful and wild places I've ever been on earth. The entire album tells a story, a tale of lost and found, of tragedy and truth, of an aching longing for eternity, of death being swallowed up in life... I've attached the music video of one of my favorite songs for you to enjoy.

I think God used that time and that music to prepare my heart for deeper things I would face this week, as the adventure continues...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Curves in the road

The thing about driving through the mountains is, there are a lot of curvy roads. (In fact, that's how we learned on the trip that Brie gets carsick.)

I loved the wide open prairie lands, where the road stretched straight out forever in front of us, with no trees or hills to obstruct the view... I strained my eyes to see as far as I could, just because I could, and I took deep, deep breaths of air out there, like I could inhale the entire big blue sky that stretched from horizon to horizon. I felt free and easy and confident, knowing where I was going and what would be there when I arrived.

But then the hills grew taller and taller and the trees crowded thicker and thicker, and all I could see of the sky was right above me, and all I could see of the road and land was what came before a curve that was so close I could see it without my glasses on. And I love this scene in a different way... it has an element of adventure, not knowing what will happen next. It was thrilling to hug the edge of the mountain and wind higher and higher. It even felt a little dangerous, especially when we saw yellow diamond shaped signs warning about bison and deer and big-horned sheep and cowboys. It's those "joy in the journey" moments when you want to slow down for fear of what you might find but also want to speed up to discover what is around the corner.

Life is like that too... we come to curves in the road, and have no idea what the next day or next step might hold. And those curves have a tension of anxiety and anticipation, don't they? Who knows if changes are going to turn out to be good or bad, or how they will affect your relationships and decisions and the rest of your life? What a beautiful opportunity to work out our faith... to test how much we really trust God. He is good, faithful, and unchanging - He is the mountain we can depend on as we travel these winding roads.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Our Richard

Taking a break today from road-trip reflections to mention our dearly departed Richard. No, he is not dead. On the contrary, he is very much alive - more alive, I think, than the average Richard.

But he had to leave us Monday to return to his home in NC, after spending six weeks with us on the Homestead. Yep, he's been a part of our family, served with us, learned with us, played with us, prayed with us, ate with us, and most definitely consumed large amounts of ice cream with us.

Richard spent the summer learning how to teach an adult Somali man to speak English, working with the youth program at I-House, tutoring a family of international boys, and... frankly, I don't really know the extent of all he did. I just know he stayed busy and did what needed to be done with a smile. Oh yeah, and he fixed our lawn mower and mowed our yard!

Please pray for him! He is starting his senior year of high school and finishing up his Eagle Scouts work and returning to (help lead??) the youth group at my home church. He has grown a lot spiritually this summer, and has a lot to offer - faith, grace, love, and strength to give to those in his community in NC. Pray that God will continue to teach him and use him mightily, and that He will guide him in his daily work and decisions about the future.

This kid is amazing - he has a light in him that we all love and will really miss. Richard (Rick/Richard Parker/Lil' Richard), remember that your family in IN love, support and pray for you! And we hope you'll return to us soon!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The rock-climbing date

You may recall a post I wrote back in January... or maybe not... so here is a quick link to it. Well on the last day of camp I shared some of these thoughts with the girls, as a way to understand "the hope of glory."

"I love this place!" I said. "There is so much to do here... and I love watching you girls do so many exciting things. And I wish I could do them all with you - water skiing, swimming, rock climbing... I've been looking at that mountain all week wishing I could climb it and repel or cliff jump off of it into the lake! That's something I'm really looking forward to in heaven - being able to do all the amazing things I can't do now, with no fear of pain or death or failure...and I want to see you all there. I can't wait to share adventures in heaven with you. "

After chapel, one of the campers came over to me and said, "In case you are wondering what I am doing when you're speaking, I am actually drawing pictures. It helps me focus and pay attention better. So, today I drew this picture of you.."

A pretty good likeness, I'd say! Complete with glasses, wheelchair, and Peter Pan converse shoes. At the bottom of the page, she wrote: "Remember: visit Connie in heaven. Go rock climbing."

This girl is super cool! I got to hear her story later... she was adopted by a Christian woman who couldn't have kids, and she was praying and reading 1 Samuel 1 when she got the phone call that there was a 7-year-old girl who needed a home. The even crazier thing is that this woman had seen the girls' aunt crying alone in a church some weeks before, and had stopped and prayed with her, not having any idea that the lady was crying because she didn't want to put her own niece up for adoption but couldn't afford to care for her. This was probably one of my favorite God stories I heard all week.

That night at chapel, I told the whole group of girls that my new friend and I already have a rock climbing date when we get to heaven. "Any one else care to join us?" I asked, and a bunch of eager hands raised. I looked at my friend, who had sketch pad in hand, and said, "What do you think? Is it ok if our party gets a little bigger?" She smiled really big and said of course it was.

So, in heaven, if you spot me taking on a huge mountain with a contingent of beautiful crazy girls around me, you'll know who they are.

Monday, August 5, 2013


I realized during my trip that some of the most beautiful things I have seen are products of erosion and decay.

I read about how the Badlands were at one time a large body of water that eventually drained and dried out. And the red and pink and brown horizontal stripes tell the stories of its decline and the deaths of mighty sea creatures.

The paint pots of Yellowstone are formed from oxidized iron and hot gases constantly blowing and bubbling and mixing with the mud, swirling it into reds and yellows, and coating surfaces with orange bacteria and filling holes with florescent blue water.

The Grand Tetons were formed from volcanic eruptions and deposits.

Makes me smile and think of God's artistic grace... He created a beautiful and perfect world full of life, and sin came in and brought death, not just to humans, but to all of creation. But God's plans cannot be foiled - he gives beauty for ashes. As the world breaks down and falls apart, he causes even the pains of death to be redeemed.

And while I am so thankful for this, it really serves to remind me of the greater miracle of redemption in me. My muscles are weakening and my body is wearing out. And yet... my spirit is being renewed day by day, and God's power and strength are being made more and more perfect in my weakness. In fact, I think that the more dependent I become, the more beautifully his grace is able to shine forth.

It's that crazy, backward, upside-down, inside-out kind of life that Jesus calls me to live - I must become less and He must become more.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Rainbow Prophecy

Mile log: 700

Rainbows. A reminder of the promise of God, that he will never again flood the earth. For years, that promise never really impressed me. It felt like an over-exaggerated, irrelevant comment of regret, like when I promised never to eat kumquat again, or if I promised never to bring questionable contraband into another country again. But the more I learn about the holiness and mercy of God, the more I am thankful that he reminds me of this promise the way he does.

The first time it rained, it didn't stop for 40 days. It was the full wrath of God, literally poured out on a wicked world that absolutely deserved it. After the flood, the world didn't change - Noah sinned, and his kids sinned, and his grandkids sinned... and all his descendants since then have sinned and are by nature objects of the wrath of the God who also hasn't changed - He is still just as holy, and still has just as much cause to wipe out generation after wicked, rebellious generation of people who will not and cannot match his holiness.

When I see a rainstorm end and a rainbow appear, I'm beginning to understand that it was a prophecy of Jesus. See, after the flood, the wrath of the Holy God still needed an outlet... He just promised that the world would not be it. So he stepped down and put on human flesh and died, taking the full force of his own wrath. He didn't deserve a drop of it, but it had to fall somewhere, and he'd already promised to spare his creation, so the only thing to do was put it on himself. The rainbow doesn't just remind me of the promise, but how the promise was fulfilled.

That's why the rainbow is so beautiful - it tells the gospel story: that Jesus took the flood of wrath we deserved and instead showered us with his mercy.  Selah.