Monday, November 21, 2011

Bull Elk #2 Even Better

In my post I've Waited 11 Years I wrote about how it took 11 years for me to see elk up close on our very own property. I'd seen them running across our driveway road up ahead and I'd seen them from a distance but I'd always wanted to see them walk right past the house. Sometimes I'd even wake up in the middle of the night hearing a funny noise and wonder if just maybe I was meant to get up and look out the window because my elk would be there. After that amazing experience of watching a cow elk drinking from our water trough literally right below our window my next big desire was to see a bull close to the house.

Well, I got my wish. It was a couple weeks after my really fun sighting of a bull elk just 30 feet off the highway. I was waiting for a visiting friend to call me from a couple miles away so I could direct her back in to our place. It was October so the elk were bugling every night. I'd had a few conversations with them from time to time, doing my personal rendition of a female elk call. Before my friend called I thought I'd water my plants on the front porch. Upon opening the front door I heard a loud bugle of a bull elk. I thought, "Wow, he sounds close." So I called to him. Immediately he called back. Usually they wait a bit to respond. Not this guy. He called instantly.  I waited, playing coy, and called again. Immediately he bugled back.

"Wow! He sounds REALLY close."  I took a look from the front porch back behind the house. I could see his legs through the trees! I kept up my calling and very soon I could see his head and long antlers bobbing up and down as he grazed on the grasses. He was only about 40 feet from the back of the house, another 35 feet to me.

He nonchalantly grazed, stopping now and then to bugle. He was with some of his ladies making their way from the woods, where they spent the day bedded down, out to the meadows for their night time grazing. He was getting closer. I was so excited. I began to think, "What if he sees me and gets mad that I'm an impostor?" Bulls can be pretty ornery when disappointed during their rut, or breeding season. I also began to think about my friend who was due to call me at any second. I didn't want my phone ringing while I was outside.

So I snuck back inside and managed to shut the door silently. I went right to the dining room window at the back of the house and got a great look at him. It was so awesome! He grazed and sauntered just 20 feet from the window. A great big bull! I got to watch him for several minutes before my cell phone rang. When it did he stopped and looked toward the house. I whispered to my friend what I was watching. The bull began to angle away from the house and move on with a little more determination. I let go of the marvelous experience with him and focused on directing my Alaska friend down our dirt roads and to the house. When I opened the door and heard her car crunching on the gravel I went out back and waited for her to drive in.

I knew the elk was still pretty close, out beyond the opposite corner of the house and walking farther away, but I didn't want to scare him into running full speed away. I wanted to see if I could get him to bugle for my friend.  When she pulled in we greeted each other and I tried not to instinctively whisper. This was, after all, a reunion and a first ever visit and it warranted expression of the enthusiasm we both felt. Again I tried to let go Mr. Bull and enjoy the greetings I exchanged with my friend. But as soon as the initial ones were complete, I told her I wanted to try to get him to bugle for her. I did my call, wondering how far away he would be and if he'd be onto me and ignore it. Bam! Immediately he bugled loudly! Apparently he'd moved on quickly past the house and then resumed his relaxed grazing. I was so glad she got to hear him. "Do it again!" she said. I did. And he did!  IT WAS SO FUN, again! And even better than the last time!

If you've never heard an elk bugle, check out this incredible YouTube video  ( of a BBC story about the yearly elk invasion of Estes Park, Colorado.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bull Elk

Living in the country I'm privileged to see quite a bit of wildlife. Every now and then, on the dirt roads around home we see elk grazing or crossing the road, all of them females, or "cows." Very rarely do bull elk show themselves.  So I was pretty excited when I saw a "big ol' bull" on my way home from work about six weeks ago. He was just off the highway behind a barbed wire fence. Right there in broad daylight!

This was too special; I just had to turn around. When I did, it seemed all other cars vanished from the highway and I got to slow down to a crawl as I came to him. He walked right along with me, about 30 feet away, still on the other side of the fence. It was so cool. I watched him and he watched me. I could tell he wanted to cross the road; he paced the fence waiting for an opportunity to cross.

Since I was now going the wrong direction, headed back toward town rather than home, I turned around again. He was still there. It is so rare to see a big bull elk from the highway. It's rare to see them altogether. And there he still was; I just had to prolong this incredible sighting. So I went up aways and turned around again. This would make my fourth pass. This time, a delivery truck had come by and gotten in front of me. Mr. Bull had jumped the fence wanting to cross the highway. The truck had to brake and the bull turned back, pacing and biding his time. I'd pestered him enough so I slowed way down to give him ample room. He crossed up ahead of me. The last I saw of him was his cream colored rump jumping over the fence as I passed by. IT WAS SO FUN!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sap Rising

Before the church service ended, she began sobbing. Her husband reached over and enfolded her in his arms. Her soft wails could be heard over the service. A final prayer, a final song, still she cried. It was the Sunday following a powerful week at our church. It was our first 24/7 prayer event and God was moving. Prayer team members and artists had developed creative and inspiring prayer stations. The beautiful, tranquil setting invited resting in God's presence and meeting Him in new ways. He was doing business with us all.

The service over now, people made their way outside. But I remained, captivated by this dear woman and her loving husband. The pastor approached them for a brief moment but then let them be. “God is doing a sacred work,” I marveled to myself, “right here, right now.” I was moved at the wisdom of people who knew not to interrupt it. Rather than rush in prematurely with noble attempts to make it all better, everyone seemed to know that God was doing business with her. Sacred business. Life-changing business.

Transformation is God's sacred work in us. It's a process. God's in it for the long haul with us. His work sometimes comes in spurts where He does huge business all at once, but generally, transformation comes about slowly as we spend more and more time with Him. It doesn't often happen on our time table. I'd prefer that it happen much more quickly in me than it is. In fact, over the years, I've often tried to hurry it along with what I think are the right things to do. All good things and good disciplines, but I was doing them for the wrong reasons. Without really knowing it, I was expecting them to change my heart from the outside in. I'd created a burden of expectations and became tied up with guilt over all the things I should be doing and what I thought I should be like as a Christian.

One day I realized that what I was doing amounted to trying to tape fruit onto a tree. I was starting with the fruit and trying to make it real in my life by adding on all the “proper” Christian behavior. Pass me the tape, I'm going to be a good Christian!

We can get it so backwards sometimes. We look out there into the future and ask, “What's my goal? What does Christian maturity look like?” Wanting something measurable, we easily think of behaviors pertaining to things that are right and good. A “mature” Christian would... fill in the blank. And then we focus on adding on all those things to our “outside,” taping on the fruit of what we want to someday be.

But taped on fruit falls off. Taped on fruit withers and rots. It doesn't last because it's not connected. It hasn't been grown from within. There are no fruit factories where fruit is assembled or manufactured. Behavior can be taped on; qualities form. Fruit forms. Real fruit is a result of sap rising within the tree, flowing through the branches and out to the ends where there emerges a blossom, then a bud, then the fruit. God forms His fruit in me. The more I am with Him, the more He works in me to produce His fruit. The more I bring my very truest self to Him and trust Him with who I really am, the more genuine my relationship is with Him and the more He can work in me. He can work with my junk and my ugliness, my bad moods and selfish desires, when they're honestly brought before Him. What He can't work with is pretense, my manufactured efforts covering up a hiding heart.

He is the vine, I am the branch. By abiding in Him the sap rises, so to speak, and He brings about fruit in my life. (John 15:4) “Abide in Me and I in you,” He says. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (John 15: 5) Taped on fruit doesn't transform me. God transforms me. It takes trusting all of Him with all of me. As I spend time with Him, leaving my tape behind, wanting simply to know Him more, He changes me. From the inside out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Connecting With God

Our devotions teacher at the CLASS Christian Writers' Conference was Jan Johnson. If you don't know Jan's work, I highly recommend you get some of her books. They are worth devouring. Her message is that of slowing down to connect with God in deliberate and meaningful ways, rather than applying our hurried modern attitude to our Bible reading, prayer, and our relationship with God in general. For over 20 years she has been studying, practicing, and writing on how to incorporate spiritual disciplines into our lives for the purpose of connecting with God, not out of a sense of obligation or as another To Do List item we can check off when done. Her books include, When the Soul Listens, Savoring God's Word, Invitation to the Jesus Life, Spiritual Disciplines Companion, and Abundant Simplicity and more.

Jan was a wonderful devotions speaker. She pointed us toward “hanging out with Jesus” and investing in our spiritual formation in ways that meet us personally, being intentional about our spiritual formation. She gave us an example of an area of difficulty for her, getting grumpy at airports. As a national speaker, she spends a lot of time in airports traveling to and from retreats and speaking engagements. “Lord, help me find something to change my attitude at airports,” was her prayer. Now, at airports her mind is on helping others whenever she sees a need. If someone drops something, she picks it up for them. If someone is struggling with their luggage, she helps. Instead of being grumpy, she's now looking for ways to serve people, hoping to brighten their day. Beautiful! I have never seen or heard of that kind of detailed intentionality in one's spritual life.

My “take-away” word from the daily teaching lab I'd selected was “intentional.” As I mentioned in that post, this word comes with a warning. To use Jan's loving words, the warning is simply this: “Don't you dare do this out of a sense of obligation!” The purpose is not to add on a bunch of dos and don'ts to a spritual regimen. The purpose is to deepen our connection with God. Here is where the challenge lies: making sure the outward activities of my intentionality always begin on the inside, in my heart, and move outward, rather than starting on the outside and expecting them to transform my heart.

Transformation was the topic of our 2011 conference book project. (Last year's topic was "Out of the Overflow.") Those who wanted to participate wrote a short article about transformation to be included in a compilation book published by WinePress, due out around Christmas. The piece I intended to include is all about this “from the inside out” process of transformation. Since I didn't include it for publication in the book, I'll publish it here in a couple days in order to continue my thoughts on intentionality from the heart.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


At last week's writers' conference, I attended the teaching lab titled "The Spiritual Journey Of A Writer". It was taught by Jerome Daley, a Leadership and Writing Coach from North Carolina. We met every morning in the cozy Gathering Room furnished with a fireplace, couches, tables and beautiful art. Throughout our meetings, Jerome asked pointed questions and required us to answer with single words. I loved this exercise. Being a lover of words (as are all my classmates) I really enjoyed simplifying things down to a single word.
One of the questions was, "What is your favorite kind of writing?" Some of our answers were:  reflective, formational, healing, unapologetic, vulnerable, and hoping.
Another question was "What one word describes where you are in your spiritual journey?" What a thought provoking question! It's surprising how powerful a single word can be. Reducing a description to single word makes that one word very, very significant. Some of the words our group used to describe their spiritual journey are:  deep, deepening, quiet, crippled, assaulted, resistant, desperate, growing, transformed, content, doorstep, worshipful. Wow.
We zeroed in on some key things for our spiritual journey and our writing journey, and then merged the two together on the last day, aiming at understanding our personal needs for either structure or spontaneity so we can better create a "map" for these journeys.
We talked about being intentional in class and again, Jerome asked us to use a single word or a phrase to describe the word “intention.” Some of the things we contributed were: on purpose, aware, directed, tenacious, deliberate, slow down, focus, not getting steam rolled by life, and choosing.
At the end of our three sessions, we were asked to select a single word reflecting what had impacted us most. The word I chose was "intentional." When asked, as we all were, to explain why, I shared the disappointing truth that "The things I long for in my life are not a part of my life because I have not been intentional."  This conference for me was all about becoming more intentional in both my spiritual journey and my writing journey. It was a message "coincidentally" repeated throughout the workshops I chose, the group devotions time, and my personal time with God at Ghost Ranch the day before the conference began.
But this word, intentional,  comes with an important warning. I'll write a little about it in my next post.

Writers' Conference

Last week I attended another CLASS Christian Writers Conference. It was SO good! Like last year it was held at Ghost Ranch just outside Abiquiu, New Mexico. The beautiful and isolated setting of the ranch always adds so much to an already inspiring week. CLASS does such a good job at putting on this conference. There are valuable workshops and continuing teaching labs throughout the week. The faculty are "real" people genuinely interested in our lives, our writing and helping us become better writers. The spiritual emphasis of the program is so grounding, keeping us focused on what matters the most: our relationship with God. After all, He is the reason we want to write. He has put in each of us the love of writing, the desire to "write for Him" and His purposes. It is our desire to let Him use what He has put into us, both the skill and the messages.

It was a great week. Here are a few of the photos I took.

This Cottonwood tree was stunning. I arrived on Tuesday at the Ranch and spent Wednesday alone on kind of a personal retreat. I took photos, read and journalled in the morning and wrote in the afternoon.

Ghost Ranch is nestled up to these beautiful mountains.

The buildings of Ghost Ranch run alongside and at the end of The Alfalfa Field. In the background is Pedernal Mountain, which Georgia O'Keeffe was so fond of painting from the ranch.

Thursday and Saturday were stormy days for us. We ate breakfast to a blustering snow outside the windows of the dining hall. This photo was taken on Saturday after the storm had passed over us. The dark storm clouds moved behind the mountain and the sun came out to shine brightly on the rock face. It was breathtaking.

I love this formation with all its holes and crevasses.

Last year I stayed in the Bunkhouse. The rooms were very small and bare, with a dormitory style bathroom outside and down the row. I was happy to find myself rooming again this year with the same roommate, Connie, with whom I earned my rookie merit badge by staying in the Bunkhouse. This year's accommodations were a giant step up, comparatively. Our room was so much larger. It was carpeted and we had an actual closet, bookshelves, two chairs and an end table. We had a sink in our room and we shared a semi-private bath with the room next door.  It was rustic, with a bare and worn concrete floor in the shower - but compared to last year, it was heaven. This is where we stayed last week in Poplar.

These giant poplars are in front of the Dining Hall. The Bunkhouse is seen in the background, the only buildings on that side of the Alfalfa Field.

I am so drawn to all the Adirondack chairs on the property. Our busy program kept us bustling from one workshop to the next event, leaving these chairs empty the entire week. One of the faculty and my friend, Ron, asked the insightful question of this photo:

Why are empty chairs so compelling?

Always interested in detail, and to the exceptional, I was drawn to take this photo of the turquoise chair.

Again this year I was captivated by the thousands of fallen poplar leaves.  Last year I took a photo of a heart shaped stain left by one of them on the sidewalk. This year I found an impression on a plate in the dirt. I thought the plate was made of steel but when thinking about it I can't figure out how a lightweight leaf could leave an impression in steel. It must be stained concrete or something.

I loved this bike rack loaded with fallen leaves.

And then there were the golden leaves still on a few trees. Wednesday was such a clear and sunny day I was able to get some photos of the sort I have longed to capture for quite some time.

This giant poplar was so pretty! I loved the dripping clusters of leaves.

I had such a fun time taking photos of this tree. I must have stood under it for half an hour.

Wednesday's blue sky and sun were a gift. By the end of the week, after two cold storms, this tree had lost many of it's leaves and what remained had turned brown.