Tuesday, June 21, 2016

First moments in Yellowstone and High Places, our own National Park 100th anniversary remembrance

A few days ago, I picked up a Wall Street Journal and saw an article about Yellowstone and the National Parks celebrating their 100th anniversary. "Hey, I have my own version of that story," I said to Jerry who was sitting across from me at breakfast. One summer our family embarked on what would become a 7,000 mile adventure across our land often following the trail of Lewis and Clarke's journey west. I chronicled it in a series here called Dream Summer. In fact, a producer from World Magazine Radio saw it and asked me to record a segment for one of their shows.  You can listen to it HERE.  When I listened to it again this week, I cried, because the memories of  those days are so wonder filled. Today, I've gone deep in the archives combining and editing two pieces  from that series about Yellowstone Park, as well as adding additional content to join in the celebration of one of our nation's beautiful treasures.

A horse sidled up beside me and the cowboy riding it tipped his hat in a way that said, “Howdy, Ma’am.” On our way over the Big Horn Mountains to Yellowstone, we’d been caught in a cattle drive. A first for me. I recently heard a woman share about her struggle to adjust to country life after a move from a metropolitan area. She said, “I’m mostly city and cement.”  


Though it’d been a day or so since we’d had an historical encounter with Lewis and Clark, we found they indirectly named these mountains. They’d given the Bighorn River its moniker on their return from the Pacific. The mountains were named for the river that runs through them.

There’s no hurrying a cattle drive, so we inched along on our way to Yellowstone surrounded by cows the color of dark chocolate.  

Once we passed the cattle drive, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the altimeter my dad had installed in the van we borrowed from him. Yes, altimeter. An Air Force veteran, he liked aeronautical gadgets. We’d begun at about 4,650 feet at Buffalo. At 8,000 feet, we stopped at Ten Sleep Creek and took some pictures. Then we crested the mountain. 

I’ve never understood the meaning of the word “switchback” until we crossed the Bighorns. I do now. Switchbacks are the only way engineers can cut roads across some of these mountains.  

The elevation is high. 

The drop offs sheer. 

 Be still my heart. 

We weren’t quite up to speed on how to take these mountains, and we began to smell brakes. We needed to pull over and let them cool a bit, and the place we chose turned out to be a Youth Camp in the town of Ten Sleep. As we waited, we went inside the chapel there and hanging on the wall was what would be one of my next Vacation Bible School projects. Composed of foam sheets made by individual children, they were woven together to make this wonderful wall hanging. I loved it and had such joy in remembering its origin later when I helped the children at our church create the same thing.  

When we finally made it to Yellowstone, just inside the east gate, we saw a crowd of people stopped along the road forming what we later learned was a “bear jam.” We stopped to see what was happening. 

About fifty yards away, a grizzly ambled toward us (left middle ground in the above picture) . Astounding. People come to Yellowstone for years and never see a grizzly and here we were only minutes inside the park. We felt safe enough at first, but when he started moving in our direction, we headed for the car. In the next few miles, we’d see both bull elk and buffalo.  

Both my children kept journals on this journey as part of a home school assignment. Aaron had made hardly any notations in his up until this point. But these wildlife sightings ignited his creative energy. He grabbed his journal and tried to record all he saw. 

I recently came across this journal.

"I just saw a GRIZZLY bear!!!" he writes. "Two minutes later. I just saw two BUFFALO!"

As I held it in my hand and thought of his bedroom walls full of wildlife prints, I wondered how much those first few minutes in Yellowstone helped move him toward  his goal of becoming a wildlife biologist.

I don’t know, but I’ll never forget those precious days of discovery we had together as a family. And I believe maybe God who cares about all the details of our lives sent those animals along that day just to make my little son's heart glad. 

Our family spent its first camping night ever in Yellowstone Park. Somehow, that didn't seem right. It felt like we should have worked up to this privilege somehow.

The next day, we visited what every visitor has to see in Yellowstone, Old Faithful.

We waited awhile before it spewed its hot fountain into the air, awed by its predictability and beauty. Then afterwards, while standing in line at a restaurant across from the geyser, we got in line behind someone who  looked familiar. Turned out to be our son's YMCA soccer coach from back home in Georgia. Go figure.

I love the National Park Service. I really do. In fact, I’m thinking of becoming a park ranger when I grow up. Not only do I love the uniform but can’t think of any occupation that would be more fun. But I have a few questions I’d like to ask someone in authority.

In some parks, there are guardrails on walkways and roads to keep you from falling off a log. In Yellowstone at the time of our visit, one walked on boardwalks across hot boiling water and along precipices of undetermined depth with not a handrail in sight. Why is this? The signs simply said something like, “Please don’t jump off these walkways or you could die.”

Really. Scary.

 note the Dangerous sign to the right

At the lower falls of the Yellowstone, it seemed we stood on just a few rocks thrown together on the side of the canyon walls. I peered over a small ledge and gasped. It had to be a drop of a least 50,000 feet. But, I forgot my fear as I gazed at the thundering falls-- awesome, powerful, and astoundingly beautiful. An incredible work of God and one of the many high places we visited.


“Mommy, you’re hurting my hand,” Bethany said. I loosened my grip a bit to give her relief, but continued to hold it. My seven-year old had already proved herself untrustworthy by jumping off the walkway at Mammoth Hot springs to inspect a little hole in the ground. Thankfully, her landing spot was solid earth and not molten lava.

On our exodus toward the North Gate of Yellowstone, meadows and wildlife surrounded us, and I began to feel as if I knew what to expect, when we went through a pass in the mountains and literally glided on to nothing. I didn’t know we’d been in a hanging valley and the road at this point was supported at times not by good solid earth, but simply suspended over the canyon by I don’t know what.

When the road did lie on terra firma, I felt the wheels of our converted van barely made traction along the top of the sheer cliffs. I’d look out the window at the drop and feel my stomach leave me. I understood then, why my Dad’s wife had gone to the back of the van to lie down when they made this trip.

But how often does one actually get to ride through the air on four wheels? Another high place.

As far as high places go, nothing could prepare us for the spiritual heights to which God was about to take us. We were headed to a family camp high in the Montana mountains.

It was here, not far from the timberline, that God confirmed in my heart the dream of writing a book.

“Beverly,” I heard the worship leader say one evening as I was leaving a meeting. He approached me, “I feel like God is saying that you’re afraid to go after what He is telling you. I believe he’s encouraging you to ‘Do it afraid.’ And that he will confirm whatever this is to you.

That night in a dream, I saw a book, and the title was from Matthew 7:7, "Ask, and it shall be given you."

"Do it afraid,” I’ve repeated often through the years as I’ve come up against the old relentless enemy of self-doubt, and when fear reared its ugly head.

Just like Peter wanted to put up shelters on the mount of transfiguration, I wanted to stay on this mountain, but I’d learned in the high places, that if we want to get to the beauty, we have to face our fear.

So, when we left the camp on Friday, we were making a descent in more than one way. Oswald Chambers says, “We have all had times on the mount, when we have seen things from God’s standpoint and have wanted to stay there; but God will never allow us to stay there. The test of our spiritual life is the power to descend; if we have power to rise only, something is wrong. It is a great thing to be on the mount with God, but a man only gets there in order that afterwards he may get down among the devil-possessed and lift them up. We are not built for the mountains and the dawns and aesthetic affinities; those are for moments of inspiration. That is all. We are built for the valley, for the ordinary stuff we are in, and that is where we have to prove our mettle”(My Utmost for His Highest).

In the weeks after our return home in that summer of 2001, it would definitely feel like a valley. The situation with my mother's health would spiral downward. We’d begin a yearlong fight against cancer for a dear friend, face a difficult ministry situation, and of course wrestle with the fallout from the tragic event we’ve come to call 911.

But I remembered in my pain, and sadness, and grief that God had called my name one Wednesday night on a Montana mountain. I remembered that I’d seen the rare beauty of the wild earth God had created. I remembered, and I prayed that I’d be able to give away the hope God had planted in my heart in the high places.

Again, please read more here at Dream Summer (you have to scroll down to get to the beginning) and listen to the World Magazine Broadcast here.

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