Sold

Last week, the sale of our church property and buildings was finalized.  Fifteen months after we had made the decision to list the property and begin looking for a new place to gather.  Fifteen long months on the heels of an even longer time period that equipped us to make that decision.  Now, we have offices and worship space that we are using at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. We will sojourn there for an undefined but temporary season.  We are less than five miles from our former location and yet it is a whole new world.

IMG_8403A flood of emotion washed over me as the sale was completed.  The emotion was not really about the building.  Although, I did take time to sit in the empty sanctuary and remember all that the building has meant to me.  I remembered where I sat for Opening Convocation my first semester of seminary.  At that point, I had no idea of where my vocational path would lead.  I listened to Victoria Atkinson White preach and thought to myself, “If I ever preach, I want to preach like her.”  I remember gazing at the stained glass window full of wonder about what God was doing with me; so certain I was called but not knowing yet to what I was called.

As I sat and remembered, I let the tears pour down my cheeks.  They were tears of release as I mark this phase of this big work as complete.

IMG_8409When I began my work as the pastor of Ginter Park Baptist Church almost five years ago (as I write, we are right at the anniversary of when the search committee travelled to Charlotte to hear me preach), I had no idea this is where we would go together.  When I did start to understand that my work with them would be centered on leadership through difficult conversations and transition, I wan’t always happy about it.  This wasn’t work I wanted to do.  I wan’t really sure I had it in me to do this work.  And yet, to such work I was called and to such I have given my all.

I have begun calling this particular work I have done with Ginter Park my “Big Work”.  My goal all along the way, was simple: to lead them well.  I did not have a particular outcome in mind.  I simply wanted to lead them with integrity, authenticity, and courage.  I wanted to lead them in a way which fostered transformation and growth.  I wanted to lead with fearlessness, faith, and hope.

All of my work with Ginter Park these five years has been part of this Big Work, culminating in this moment.  The tears were in recognition of the magnitude of the moment and of all we have experienced and done together in so short a time.

IMG_8401I sat in the sanctuary and took a much needed pause to let this day soak in.  As I did, I felt overwhelmed with two things – gratitude and peace.  Gratitude for the work of others that helped prepare this way; for the companionship of wise friends and colleagues; for the understanding and support of my family; and greatest of all, gratitude for the surprises of resurrection and pentecost in my own soul and the soul of this church.  And peace in knowing that I have led them well.

I did my best for them.  I gave my all to this work.  I am satisfied that what I gave was not only enough but was good.  This is the hardest work I have ever done, and, is the most meaningful.  There were days I prayed just to make it through.  But I didn’t just survive this difficult work, I was transformed and blessed by it.

They call the finalizing of the sale the “closing”, but, that word is far too confining and small for what we are experiencing. It is a closing in the sense that this is the closing of a chapter for us.  The corner of Brook Road and Laburnum Avenue will not feature in our future as it has in our past; impacting everything from our mailing address to the core of our identity.  But, we’re already living in the next chapter and it is a great one.  This may be an end, but we’ve already been beginning anew.  This moment is a closing and an opening.

 

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Grand (Teton) Stillness

A reflection from my last day spent in Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park in August of 2017…

I hiked a little way on the Lake Trail this morning before hunkering down on a big rock at the water’s edge. You can read more about that trek from an earlier blog post, Stones that Singhere.

DSC_0211I am in awe of the Teton range.  The way they jut up into the sky.  The way their rock shines in the sunlight.  The way the frosting of glaciers decorates them.  The way the clouds move around them.  Today the clouds are hanging in their valleys, wrapping their peaks like a cowl.  Hovering over them like halos or crowns.  So alive.  So stunning.

It is hard for me to believe that when we stopped through here on our way to Yellowstone a few summers ago, we couldn’t see them.  There was such a thick fog that day that we couldn’t see them.  At all.  We had no idea of the massive beauty that was hidden just through the fog.  We didn’t have time to stay and see them reveal themselves.  What else is right there in front of me that I can not see?

IMG_8214Stopping and waiting.  Being still for a long while.  There is an art to it.  Takes practice.

So much of my life is moving forward, pushing through time to cram the most in.  To achieve, to complete.  Not wanting to miss anything, I rush.  What is my hurry?

I have stopped and been still often during this trip.  Stopped and sat with no other motive than I want to.  I have been still and have paid attention.  And I have seen things so magnificent that I am convinced that stillness is a holy pursuit.  I have heard the wind sing a song.  I have felt the difference in the temperature of winds sweeping across the plains as opposed to the winds coming from the mountains.  I have sat still, watching the clear, smooth water long enough to see the tiny wake made by a fish or insect that I can’t see.  Skittering along in an unpredictable path.  I have watched the clouds amble along the ridge. I have seen the sunlight illuminate various slivers of mountain.  Here, look at this cliff face and see how it shines.  Now, focus on this valley where the glacier once lay.  See how it has shaped this place.  See how it has changed it.  See how it has been changed.  See the mighty peak one moment and the next, it is hidden again.  Look at the lovely thick forest rim as the mountain sinks down into the water.  So verdant and full of life.

I would like to see what is hidden beneath the lake.  Dive down deep and see the footprint of the glaciers.

I woke at 6am this morning, but I did not leave the warmth of my bed until nearly 10.  I savored a pattern of reading a little, then napping.  My breakfast was a piece of dark chocolate and the last few sips of my Diet Dr. Pepper.  I thought about my sermon for the coming Sunday.  I missed home and reflected on the goodness of this time away.  And then, I would doze off once again.  There were periodic rain storms so it felt absolutely right that I lazily ease into the day.  I don’t think there have been any other slow mornings like that on this trip.  It felt simultaneously wasteful and decadent.

DSC_0218My mind is curious about things I was too busy to even know to consider before. Here, my spirit is grounded and I don’t feel like a visitor, I feel like a part of this living, breathing, ecosystem.  I delight in my leisure.  I breathe in it’s luxury.

My God, a little animal just poked his head up from about twelve feet away from me.  Not sure what it was.  He spotted me and froze.  I spooked him as I slowly reached for my camera.  He was right alongside the path.  So close.  All these travelers have no idea.  I hope he shows himself again.  But I am guessing there are too many noisy humans.  Yes, I need to buy some bear spray and a hiking stick and whatever else real explorers do so that they can have solitude without being reckless.  I think maybe it was an otter.  I’d like to see him again.  Perhaps, he is as curious about me as I am about him?

Clouds are moving in.  Clouds heavy with rain like a cow needing to be milked.  I ought to pack up and find some shelter.  But I want to feel, smell, and see that moment of their release.  I want to hear the joyous symphony as the water falls on these thirsty stones.  I want to see their dazzling beauty.  I will join them with a rain dance of gratitude.IMG_8213

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Waking up in the Tetons

IMG_8200When I woke at 6am that first morning in Grand Teton National Park, I was bleary eyed.  I had slept horribly the night before.  I blame the anxiety of not wanting to miss out on the morning ranger-led hike, and, that Huckleberry Margarita I’d so festively tried the night before.  I hurriedly washed my face, got dressed, and threw things in my hiking pack.

The early morning drive from my cabin to the station where the hike sets off from was lovely. Not many cars out on the roads and the morning light made everything look soft.

 

DSC_0188I was stressing about being early enough to get a token for one of the spots on the ranger led hike.  Even with a little confusion of where to go, I was second in line.  The hike began with a ride on a boat across Jenny Lake.  I wouldn’t mid sitting out on that water a nice long time.  The ranger asked us for descriptive words for the lake.  Someone said clear, someone said sparkly, someone said beautiful.  My word was inviting.

The hike was a pretty easy one with a really nicely maintained trail.  There was a big group of us, so no bear worries.  An easy pace for the mile hike up into the the next zone of habitat.  This is very different than hiking in the desert around the ranch.  It is much more green.  And this hike has a lot of water. I’m sitting by some rushing water as I write.  The sound of it is sublime.  Filters out all the noise.

There are a handful of fallen trees around me.  I am captivated by them.  As they first fall, they balance on rocks and across the earth; still distinct and almost defiant in their death.  And then they get swallowed up by the earth.  They sink down into the moss and soil.  If you look closely, you can almost see that magical place where the two become one.  Such beauty in this circle of life.

IMG_8201The hike took us by Hidden Falls, which was really quite lovely.  Not entirely unlike waterfalls you might see in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  I sat there at the base of it for a good long while, mesmerized by how the water moves and dances down the incline.  Through the wood, I spied more moving water.  It wasn’t part of the river and it made me curious.  I discovered that as the water pooled at the base of the waterfall, it was in such a hurry to keep on moving that it didn’t just continue in one river path but rather spilled into several rivers…creeks maybe.  Each of them racing downward with gravity’s pull.  Reminded me of the horses running by my cabin and down into the stables and meadow below.  Wild abandon.  Giving themselves over to the natural pull, the rhythm of the earth.

DSC_0146The ranger who led the hike couldn’t have been any more precious.  (And I mean that in the most fierce, not demeaning, way.) In her young twenties, bright-eyed and fresh-faced.  She very enthusiastically told us about significant bold woman after bold woman connected with the Teton range.  Jenny, whom the lake is named for.  A native woman who helped guide early settlers.  The badass women who formed a four-woman team to climb to the top of Grand Teton.  The first team with no assistance or participation by men.  The fierce woman conservationist who gathered folks in her living room and planted the seed that would grow with Rockefeller’s financing to preserve massive amounts of land for public use and conservation.  This young ranger was unapologetically feminist.  And, I loved it.

When our group hike had finished, I asked her opinion about continuing on as a solo-hiker.  She was encouraging and gave me confidence to go onward.  However, I walked all the way back down to the ferry, completely missing the trail loop back around the lake that I intended to take.  Only good thing about that was the opportunity to refill my water bottle.  Back up I went, adding an extra mile to the trek.  Found the trail branch that time and started my way around the lake loop back to the parking lot where I started.  As I walked, I was thinking about how weird it is to be traveling alone after being so used to traveling as part of a pack of Coles.  It isn’t bad.  It is just weird.

DSC_0186After I had started back down from the highest point in the hike, I spied a moose down the slope of the mountain in a pond of water. I had unintentionally discovered the Moose Ponds. I ducked down beneath the branches to get a good view. She was smack in the middle of the pond, totally chilling out.  Occasionally dipping her face into the water and chewing on something.  She moved languidly. Two young women came upon me on their trail and I drew their attention to the moose.  With their company I moved more closely to the moose.  Down the slope a little, until I froze in silent awe.

All in all, I hiked six or seven-ish miles.  I took the ferry across and then hiked trails back.  The last mile was a push.  I was tired.  I found a shady place along the river to cool down and chill out a bit.  Tried to put up my Eno.  Failed epically.  And, now have a bruised tailbone to prove it.  But even after the spill I was blissed out.  Beautiful view of the peaks, birds dancing above the water, the babbling sound of rushing water, and a gentle rain storm rolled in.  At least I could use my Eno as a rain tent.

DSC_0189The rain picked up and my stomach’s rumble was matching the storm, so I headed toward Dornan’s for some of that pizza and beer that Amy recommended.  It didn’t disappoint.  I sat on the deck, stuffed my face, and enjoyed the sunshine and amazing view while I wrote.  I took my time knowing that I didn’t have much gas in my tank for the rest of this day.

IMG_8204The drive back had several treats.  I got to talk with Mark.  I miss him.  And the boys too.  I stopped and took the oath to become a Junior Ranger.  Hokey and silly but also pretty stinking fun.

I passed by a huge elk on the side of the road.  Super cool.  And I had to pull off and take some photos because of the captivating way the sun was shining down on the Tetons. It was like God was up there, reclining on those puffy clouds, shining down a flashlight beam.  Stunning.

The day ends with a long hot shower, a snack, writing, and hopefully a sound and long night of sleep.

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Onward – Leaving and Arriving

Reflections from the day I left Ring Lake Ranch and travelled to Grand Teton National Park, August 2017 – 

Driving out of the ranch is never easy. I hate the goodbyes – to the people and to the place. Especially the disorganized goodbyes of the ranch when you never are sure whether to go ahead and say your goodbye or whether you’ll run into them again.

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Cleaning the cabin for the next guest felt like holy work. Sweeping up the mouse droppings and the white hairs that had fallen out of my head. Giving thanks for the shelter and comfort and saying prayers of rest and renewal for whomever would follow me next in calling the cabin home.

 

I thought about lingering a bit and finding a quiet place to write on the rocks around the ranch but I needed to make a quick break. Or, I wouldn’t be able to go. And so, I made my way back the way I had come just a handful of days ago in the dark. The sun shone brightly today. The sky was blue and there were big cotton ball puffs of clouds.

As I drove, I spotted white scars hanging in the sky above the horizon. Then I began to see a shadowy outline of mountains. Although, shadowy isn’t quite right. Like translucent visitors from a past life they revealed themselves to me. For awhile it just looked like the white slivers were hanging in the air.

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And then I could see some other definition around them come slowly clearer. “By God. Those are mountains.” I said it out loud to no-one but myself in my little Subaru Crosstrek. I had to pull over, and take some pictures, because I knew I’d need something other than my words to describe it. And, I’d need a picture to help me find some words.

The mountains appeared like a holy vision. I wept at the sight of them.

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I went all the way into Jackson Hole. I had it in my mind that I had to go through there to get to Coulter Bay. I didn’t. But, it gave me a chance to check out the town a little and to sit and have a cup of coffee at Starbucks. I wanted to check in and see what was going on back in Virginia with the Charlottesville protests. If I were in Virginia, I would have been with my clergy friends giving an alternate voice than that of the white supremacists. Reading their reports was startling. It all looks horrible. White men with torches raising their arm in a nazi salute. Heavily armed militant gangs working hard at spreading terror. Violence erupting. Pictures of clergy singing songs of peace with an angry mob of white men waiting just outside the church doors. Clergy, marching the streets, in silent defiance. Arms linking bodies of all genders, races, colors.

Kate sang her song, “Crazy in Alabama” the other night. She got emotional after playing it, saying, “I really hoped I could quit singing that song.” The sixties weren’t that long ago. Really. They weren’t. I mean, I thought we were moving beyond this kind of race craziness but then again, in my own family I see glints of white supremacy and blatant racism. So, now it is crazy in Charlottesville. I am thankful for my clergy friends who have gone there to take a stand for peace, love, and unity. I would like to think I would be standing side-by-side with them if I weren’t in Wyoming. And yet, I am thankful for this luxury of disconnecting once again and retreating to the wildness of nature.

After reading up on the news, I made my way to Coulter Bay Village by backtracking a bit. But before I made the turn into the National Park, there was a herd of bison just off the road. Hard to keep it between the lines with that kind of cool distraction. I drove with one hand and blindly snapped a picture or two with the other. We’ll see how that gamble pays off.

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My cabin in CBV is functional and nice. Small, clean, with room for a bed, a desk, a lamp. A good place for a good night of sleep before soaking in this place. A two-minute walk brought me to water. A little harbor of docked boats and a “marina” to buy a Coke or to launch a kayak expedition. I followed the Lake Trail around, well, the lake. The smell of the pine trees mixed with the water. Heaven.

And, the view. My God. The view.

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Those jagged peaks jutting up into the sky. Pools of white ice and snow decorate them like frosting. Add in the lakes laying around them like jewels on a necklace, and, the deep green of the pine trees. So high, that some clouds are tucked behind them. Making additional peaks, although the bend of the cloud is soft and curved instead of jagged and jutting like the stone peaks.

There were ducks swimming by. I am amazed by how long they can stay under water. They would dive down for what seemed like ages before popping back up, somewhere else altogether. They effortlessly alternate between two entirely different worlds.

The hike was nice around the lake. Although, there weren’t many people around. And those “Be Bear Aware” signs warning not to hike alone and to make noise, totally got into my head. I started to whistle to fend off bears. The tune that popped into my head – Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead…which old witch? The Wicked Witch. Weird, huh?!?

I think I’ll stick to the Ranger led hikes from here on out and play it safe. While a bear attack might make a great story, I’d rather not.

 

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Soaking in the Ranch

Reflections on my last full day at Ring Lake Ranch, August 2017 – 

Today is a day of soaking it all in. The ride for the day really wasn’t a ride. It was a field trip to another ranch. Sounded cool, but, after being gone so much yesterday and with leaving the ranch coming quickly, I don’t want to go anywhere. So, I’ve hung close this first half of the day.

Tidying in the cabin, finishing up some laundry, hiking down around the lake and the petroglyphs and chilling in a shady spot to just gaze and write.

I went down to check on my laundry on the line and had a nice chat with Leah while she tended hers too. She is a lovely human. Just being near her makes me feel good about the world. So chill and easy-going but also embodying this intense knowledge and passion. Her energy and how she moves through the world is so different than me. I dig it.

We talked a bit about the petroglyphs. I was telling her that the last time I was here they really scared the hell out of me. I mean, there is a fierce power and presence that will cut straight through any armor. This time, I am intrigued by them. I feel drawn in by them. Not quite to the point that I want to burrow up in the dark caves of them, but, that I want to sit for a spell and breathe them in.

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I am curious about them. I wonder about how the people that created them felt about them. Were they comforting? Like Wilson, the painted face on the volleyball that kept Tom Hanks company on that island? A friend to share the long holy pilgrimage with? A companion in the face of the Holy? Or, did they frighten them? Did they look at them with surprise or trepidation?

What places deep within them, what experiences and sights, what recess of their unconscious birthed those funky images?

She said that she likes to hear visitors to the ranch riff on what they think of them. I think they are alive. They speak to us a word when we are ready to receive. An untamed word for seekers.

We got to talking about my plans for the next few days and I talked about the cabin on Coulter Bay where I hope to write and write. I told her how my hope on this trip was that the dam would open and that I’d be able to write about these past few years so that I could make some meaning of them for myself and so that I could share the experience with others who will walk a similar path. I told her the surprise to me was the way that RLR was creating the framework for that story telling. That I knew I would not have been able to lead this work as I have, had I not had the experiences on the trails, and rides, and sitting on a small rock in a big wild wilderness at the ranch. Words came tumbling out of me and I got emotional hearing myself speak them.

Before I left, she said two more things to me that I don’t want to forget. She said that she aspires to write one of these days herself, and, that it was encouraging to her to hear of my writing journey. She said something like this, “When I think of you as a church and community leader. When I think of your deep wisdom. I think, of course she is a writer!” She said, “You have important things to say.”

Then, just before I left, with apologies for commenting on a woman’s appearance, she said she really digs the look I have these days. She said, “Just keep becoming more Mandy.” Not “keep becoming more, Mandy.” Which is very different altogether. Which is the voice I have let reside in my head for all of my life. No, she said something altogether different. Keep becoming more Mandy. Yes, I think I will.

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Ridge Trail Ride

Day 3 at Ring Lake Ranch (August, 2017):

This morning I chose to do another ride. This one, to new terrain I had not covered before. Mo talked about this over the ridge, somewhat steep climb, that folks that don’t like heights ought not attempt. The word cliff and drop-off may have been used.

I think I was appropriately intimidated, and yet the first name on the sign up list.

Today, I rode Duke. A pretty brown and white fella. From the moment I mounted the saddle, I was uncomfortable. The stirrups seemed too low. Then they seemed too high. My “sitting bones” were sore and tender from the ride earlier in the week. His saddle seemed just a little off center. Or maybe he just liked to lean to one side. Or maybe I was off-kilter.

DSC_0047DeWitt had us take a few minute at the start to center ourselves in the saddle and in the moment. Deep breathing and mindfulness. It was lovely but it was work today. None of it was coming easy.

Duke and I were second in line behind DeWitt. Twenty minutes in, his mellowness had helped me settle in. Before we’d even gotten far from the corral Duke took off with some speed. Startled the hell out of me. I pulled back on the reigns with a “Whoa, whoa, whoa!”

DeWitt looked back and I awkwardly reported, “He took with some speed there.” He just oh so calmly and cooly said, “Well, that can be alright too.”

Yeah, I guess that’s true. He’s a wise one. I like following in line behind him. I can draft off his peaceful presence.

DSC_0043The path was steep but I did not find it frightening. I found it exhilarating. By the time we had come to that part, Duke and I had learned enough about one another to trust the partnership. He is a bit strong headed. He would balk at my direction. But then he’d oblige my lead.

If there were two paths to get to the same place and DeWitt’s horse took one, Duke would want to take the other. I didn’t think too much of it, just noticed it. But I think I both admire and am irritated by this trait. Is it because I recognize it? It can be hard when see our reflection so clearly.

When we crested the ridge and the view spread out in front of me, my breath caught in my chest and my eyes filled with tears. Stunning. That is the word for the incredibly beauty of this landscape. Stunning.

“My God, that is truly something.”

IMG_8141.jpgMagnificence spread out like a feast before my eyes. The Wind River Valley revealing the ancient path of the glacier. Beautiful jade green lakes like dollops of gravy pooling along the way. The badlands with revealing ribbons telling the story of eons. Almost like a stack of pancakes. The Absaroka Mountain range the shadowy ridge line behind. Keeping stately guard. The smoke partially obscuring the view. Smoke from wildfires far away. As I sit on my cabin’s porch writing, I can faintly smell the smoke.

Somewhere along the way, I found my stride. Even though my knees were killing me on the ride, I felt relaxed and comfortable. Like I’d been riding all my life. Guiding Duke with ease, enjoying the warm sunshine and the rhythm of movement as my body matched Duke’s.

A few times through the various gates, DeWitt stayed at the gate and I led the line on through. By God, I am not sure I can think of any more empowering experience. So small really, but so big.

 

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More Myself Than I’ve Ever Been

Reflections from Day Four at Ring Lake Ranch, August 2017:

Today, I hiked.

We drove an hour back toward Jackson Hole to Holmes Cave trail in the Absarokas. Meadows of wildflowers were promised. Alluring opportunity, but, it was an over-lunch hike and I really didn’t want to be gone as long as Leah was talking about being gone. An afternoon nap was a pressing priority for me.

So, when Kate said she wanted to go but not be gone all day too, I said I’d drive. Which was super fun in that sporty little Subaru. She and Todd rode with me and they are quite a pair. Made me laugh. A lot.

There was a pretty big group setting out on the hike but we broke in half not too far in. The more ambitious hikers blazing a path on up to the ridge. The more relaxed pace folks just sauntering and enjoying. The flowers were lovely. They drew me in. Spots of sunlight shining in the woods, revealing brilliant colors. So very lovely.

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When we stopped for lunch I hung with the group at first. But then I listened to my need for stillness and quiet and walked a little bit away. I sat on a rock, ate my apple, and took in the beauty. The mossy ground, the small buttercups, the rocky ridge, the billowy clouds and lone bird gliding, the pines, and the slivers of sunlight through the woods. Delicious.

After lunch our group split in half again with Todd, Kate and I headed back the way we came. Those two were funny. They seemed uncomfortable on the hike. How would I know that? Well, because they articulated it clearly and often. They did it veiled in humor, but, I kept wanting to put my hands on their shoulders and say, “Relax. Breathe.”

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For a moment on the hike up they did. We were watching a grouse just a couple steps off the trail. The rest of us had walked on but they hung back a bit. And they got the reward, as the babies showed themselves too. The rest of us had just seen the momma. I wondered why she let us be so close to her, why she hadn’t flown away.

Kate exclaimed with delight. From the distance I was, I could see one baby as it scurried up toward the shelter of the wood. It was cool. But what was even more cool, was the look I could see on Todd and Kate. For a moment they relaxed into the magic of this place.

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Leading them back down felt good. I mean, I did have the thought of “who the hell am I to be leading anyone on a hike in the Absarokas”, but, at the same time I felt capable. And that was satisfying. And I did get them back safely, all the way to the ranch. Again, so small but so big.

We stopped on the drive back at a place Leah had whispered to me about over lunch. A place called Falls Campground. The campgrounds look inviting, even to this non-camping chica. We parked and made our way through an easy and sweet wooded hike. The smell of those trees was magnificent. Soft earth and shade. Level ground. So nice.

I wasn’t sure that I was in the right place until I could hear the rumble of water. And then there it was, the breathtaking rush of a waterfall. Water cutting through the rock and pushing its way impatiently down the river bed.

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The view looking back up at the falls is surreal. The jagged Absarokas in the background with the blue sky and white puffy clouds. Stun. Ning. None of my words could possibly capture the awesome beauty of it.

In the car, Kate used the phrase, “I am more myself than I’ve ever been.” By God, I feel that way out here. Grounded and connected to creation, to God, to myself more fully than I have ever been.

Some of that has to do with geography. There is something deeply sacred about this desert.

Some of it has to do with age. There is something lovely about the threshold to my forties.

Mostly itis grace.

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We stopped in town and ducked in a few stores. One of which, was the liquor store. So today, as I write on my cabin’s porch, I am sipping an ice cold Blue Moon. Soon I will lay down and nap before the evening of conversation and song.

Life doesn’t get much more perfect than this.

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