Thursday, December 1, 2016

Fairbanks and Home {Lone Star to Last Frontier, 2015}

For the backstory, please see the post, "Courage, Dear Heart!" This post includes many photos (sorry, not sorry), so e-mail readers may prefer to view the Web version of Fairbanks and Home.

Our last day in the last frontier was largely spent in a bus, enjoying the beautiful fall color on the drive north from Denali National Park to Fairbanks.

We drove past a government satellite array important during the Cold War for keeping tabs on our northern Pacific neighbors.

We stopped in Nenana and heard the story of Balto, the most famous of a team of sled dogs who managed to navigate through white-out blizzard conditions to deliver precious cargo of diphtheria medication from Anchorage to Nome. The human drivers couldn't find their way, and no planes could fly, but the dogs saved numerous lives and stopped a potential epidemic.

Nenana hillside cemetery

The odd structure below is transferred to the river surface after it freezes over for the winter. People all around the world compete to guess when the ice will thaw enough for it to fall through. (We didn't attempt that.)

These are reindeer kept by a university agriculture program. If the same animals were wild, not domesticated, they would be called caribou. We're not sure if they're Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, or who. I didn't see any red noses among them, though. ('Tis the season!)

When we arrived in Fairbanks, we explored by foot and ate lunch at a local shop. Along the river we found a pretty plaza with a sculpture commemorating the first people of Alaska and their traditions.

Repacking, weighing our suitcases, resting, and showering consumed the rest of the day. We ate a lovely, hearty dinner before our midnight trip to the airport for the long trip home. We were disappointed that the skies were still too overcast to see the Northern Lights, but the Lord gave us a sweet parting gift after our layover in Seattle.

This is Mount Rainier in early morning, as seen from my window seat. My mathematically minded dad observed that from this same flight altitude, we would still have been looking up at Denali.

We returned home that evening to near-100F heat. Due to fatigue and the lateness of the hour, we postponed our reunion with Ebony until the next morning. This journey was the longest he and I have ever been separated since we brought him home. He was beside himself to see us again. (The camera was having trouble focusing with such quick action, but this video makes me happy, so I'm including it anyway.)

In conclusion, dear Crumbles, these are my memorial stones of a great adventure I couldn't have enjoyed without the Lord's power and grace. Is there some hard thing, some God-sized task which you know the Lord is nudging you toward today? If so, I pray that having read the story of His victory for me would give you courage to move forward in faith, giving glory to Him. What He has promised, He is able also to perform (Romans 4:20-21). Where He calls, He enables. Impossibilities are His specialty.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

"What Providence Has Gone and Done"

Lesser scaup, one of the winter birds at the pond

Recently I read these words from Elisabeth Elliot on God's overarching Providence.

"The plan of God for our lives includes all of our circumstances, our entire heredity, every detail of our environment, each decision we make, all the decisions of others, absolutely everything. He can make even the wrath of man to praise Him--or any discomfiting circumstance.

"For Mark Twain in the winter of 1887, it was bad weather. He had anticipated a getaway with his wife Livy, who would come to him in New York from Hartford, Connecticut and then go with him for a brief holiday in Washington:
"And so, after all my labor and persuasion to get you to at last promise to take a week's holiday adn go off with me on a lark, this is what Providence has gone and done about it. A mere simple request to you to stay at home would have been entirely sufficient: but no, that is not big enough, picturesque enough--a blizzard's the idea: pour down all the snow in stock, turn loose all the winds, bring a whole continent to a stand-still: that is Providence's idea of the correct way to trump a person's trick. Dear me, if I had known it was going to make all this trouble and cost all these millions, I never would have said anything about your going to Washington.
"Our perspective is so limited. We keep forgetting that God's love does not show itself only in protection from suffering. It is of a different nature altogether. His love does not hate tragedy. It never denies reality. It stands firm in the teeth of suffering. The love of God did not protect His own Son from death on a cross. That was the proof of His love, though 'legions of angels' might have rescued Him. He will not necessarily protect us--not from anything it takes to make us like Jesus. A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process. Through it all, we learn to trust Him in every little thing" (Elisabeth Elliot, Be Still My Soul, 52-54).

Thank You, Lord, for Your utter, all-pervasive sovereignty. Thank You for Your unflinching love. Thank You for not shrinking from doing whatever it takes to make us like Jesus. Thank You for reason to thank You, no matter what, because, no matter what, if we are in Christ we are better off than we deserve to be. Thank You for sweetening trials with celebrations, beauty, loved ones, and laughter. Through it all, grant us grace to trust You in every little thing, because of Jesus. Amen.

A blessed Thanksgiving to you and yours, dear Crumbles!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Caterpillar Chronicles {Technical Post Script}

If you subscribe to this blog by e-mail, you may have noticed that the video portions were missing from the post you received yesterday. Since videos are not normally part of this blog, I don't know why that happened. If you would like to view them, please access the "Caterpillar Chronicles" post on the crumbs from His table website: . I apologize for the inconvenience. There's always a knowledge gap when trying something new. :) Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Caterpillar Chronicles

The technical difficulties with the video embedding have been resolved, thanks be to God. If you are having trouble viewing them in your e-mail or RSS reader, please view on the blog here: .

Here at Wits' End, we have bugs in our kitchen. On purpose.

To be more specific, we are providing temporary homes for a cohort of monarch caterpillars. Would you like to meet them?

Since we don't know how to distinguish gender at the caterpillar stage, we chose to name them by the phonetic alphabet: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot. After the above video was made, we discovered that an egg must have come in on the milkweed leaves, because we had a Golf, too.

If you've been with this blog a few years, you may remember that we hosted a monarch chrysalis during its metamorphosis once before, as I recovered from shoulder surgery. The butterfly's emergence that time happened while we slept, the one disappointment in the experience.

Earlier in the fall, our milkweed held a dozen monarch caterpillars, but none survived to maturity. November is late in the migration season for new caterpillars to appear, but there these were, and we wanted to give them a chance to fulfill their life cycle.

And we wanted a chance to watch.

In the process, I am learning much more than I expected about caterpillars and change. The only transformations I had ever heard about were from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, but the truth is even richer in application to the Christian's journey of sanctification.

The monarch's life cycle begins as an egg, which looks as little like a butterfly as a seed does a flower. It grows into a very tiny caterpillar, which eats very tiny holes in the milkweed leaves. The tiniest at our first notice was 1/4" long.

It eats and eats and grows and grows, until it outgrows its skin and molts. Then it eats its old skin before returning to the milkweed diet. Yes, really. Nothing is wasted in God's economy.

Again it eats and eats and grows and grows, until it outgrows its skin and molts. And eats the shell of its former self. And eats and eats and grows and grows and... Well, you get the idea. Our part of the process is replacing the milkweed and cleaning the jars regularly to prevent disease.

The caterpillar undergoes several of these transformations, but time after time it sheds its old caterpillar skin, only to reveal a new caterpillar beneath.

All the while, it is fully and completely a monarch butterfly in larval form.

Sometimes I think I know how that feels. From the moment of my salvation, I have been completely "in Christ," and He in me. My identity is fully and completely His blood-bought child (Gal. 2:20). The New Testament teaches that I am and have been sanctified, "perfected," even (1 Cor. 6:11; Hebrews 10:10, 14). It also teaches that I "am being sanctified" and have not yet laid hold of that for which Christ laid hold of me (Hebrews 10:14; Philippians 3:12).

By the grace of God, I feed on His Book, prayer, worship, and the fellowship of the saints. I grow and grow. Sometimes it looks like nothing is happening for a while, and sometimes there's a painful growth spurt which strips me of some part of the old me, what Paul calls "the flesh" or "the old man."

Yet underneath, my caterpillarishness remains.

This is where Amore laughed and said, "So how exactly does eating its own skin fit into the spiritual parallel?"

Initially, I said that it's a parable, not an allegory, and we make trouble when we try to squeeze every little detail for meaning in a parable. On second thought, I realized that God wastes nothing from our past experience. He causes even my sins and flesh patterns to work together for good and His glory. He's that masterful. Every bit of the old me that I shed has some part to play in my future growth and fruitfulness, perhaps in increasing humility and conscious, abject dependence on the Lord, perhaps in equipping me to communicate His grace to someone else struggling or suffering as I have.

But I digress.

The caterpillars grow and grow and transform incrementally. After some days of this cycle, they stop eating and become restless. Eventually, they stretch out to their full length, upside down, on a somewhat horizontal surface like a twig or the top of the enclosure and remain motionless for hours.

During that time, they are making and attaching a tiny pad of sticky silken thread to which to attach themselves for pupation, the transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis. The caterpillar extrudes a small bundle of prickly black spines from its tail end. After embedding these securely into the silk pad, it hangs by its tail in a "J" shape. The whole arrangement looks far too fragile to stake a life upon.

They hang there, nearly motionless, for around 24 hours (in the case of our first 4 transformations). During that time, the white stripes take on a greenish tinge and the caterpillar seems to grow fatter. We are learning that when the "J" relaxes into a straighter line and the antennae dangle limply, the transformation is about to happen.

Waves of muscle contractions visibly move upward from the head to the tail. These build until the final veneer of caterpillar skin splits behind the head. The rupture extends upward, the caterpillar scrunches off the too-tight skin, and a pupa much larger than the caterpillar emerges. The only analogies I've thought of from human life are inching off a compression sleeve or a pair of nylons at the end of a summer day and a surgeon cutting clothing away from an injured limb. 

If you wish to watch the seven-minute process, here's the video we took of Alpha's pupation:

Monarch pupa
Contrary to my expectations, monarch caterpillars do not spin or even secrete a cocoon. The chrysalis that houses the adult butterfly grows inside the caterpillar and has only to come out. In so doing, the breach with its old caterpillar life is complete and irrevocable.

Over the next several hours, this pupa contracts and hardens into a beautiful, jade-green chrysalis with gold markings. Two gold dots at the bottom cover the butterfly's eyes within. The caterpillar is no more, but the butterfly remains enshrouded for days to come.

Reportedly, if the chrysalides stay healthy, we should have 4 adult monarch butterflies emerging over several days, beginning around Thanksgiving. We will do our best, God helping us, to keep the remaining small caterpillars alive as long as the milkweed holds out. The adult butterflies will need up to a day for their wings to harden. Then we can release them into the garden. If the weather remains warm and gentle enough, they may reunite with the rest of their number in their wintering grounds in Mexico.

My transformation and yours will be measured in longer terms than days. The exact day and hour God knows. We who are in Christ Jesus by grace through faith can rest assured, however, that a day will come when we put off our caterpillarishness for good and find our wings. No longer hindered by that "old man" or "old woman," we will be like our Lord, for we shall see Him as He is, and what a glorious day that will be (1 John 3:2).

Lord willing, there will soon be a sequel to this post with our batch of butterflies. Until then, keep growing, my crumble friends. Crawl on, and don't lose heart. Your change is coming.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Fluttering: The Sequel

This has been truly a banner year for butterflies in our garden. On any given day last month, we could look out our kitchen window to see a dozen or more butterflies fluttering in the Turk's cap, butterfly weed, and milkweed.

Long-time crumbles will know that butterflies are special to me. The Lord has often used their beauty, presence, delicate diversity, and metamorphosis to encourage me. If I look at my circumstances and those of my loved ones over the last 6 months, there is plenty of reason for discouragement.  Many beloved activities are physically unattainable for me right now, but thankfully the Lord brings new butterflies to visit on the most downcast days. They remind me to look to the Lord and His work and to persist in praising and thanking Him in the midst of the challenges.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV)
The gulf frittilaries were the first to arrive en masse, back in August and September when the lantana still bloomed in the back garden.

Our state butterfly, the monarch, has come in droves but is tapering off now as the majority have migrated farther south.

We even had more than a dozen monarch caterpillars, but none survived even to chrysalis stage. They have many natural enemies. Perhaps next year we'll bring one or two inside to shelter and observe.

We relished the sight of our first giant swallowtail, who very graciously lingered for a few dozen photos.

The dainty queens mingle with the monarchs, but they are smaller, with more polka-dots.

Even smaller, the grey hairstreaks brightened up all the orange and black.

Ventral wing

Dorsal wing

The pipevine swallowtails were pretty hyperactive, but one finally consented to still in the Turk's cap and on the blackberry bush to smile prettily for the camera.

Only last week we learned to distinguish between the American lady

and the painted lady.

(If you don't believe those are two different kinds of butterflies, this side-by-side comparison of American ladies and painted ladies showed me the error of my ways.)

Almost too small to notice, two kinds of skippers hide among the bees and blooms (no Gilligans, though):

Peck's skipper (I think)
Checkered skipper (I think)
Finally, we've seen at least one orange sulphur and a tiny crescent butterfly, I believe a pearl crescent.

How glorious, gracious, and kind of our Creator to give us such beauty and variety of these beautiful insects. They fulfill the important purpose of assisting the bees in pollination so that the plants we and our planet need can grow and reproduce. He could have made them plain and monotone, but he made more kinds than I've ever seen and painted even the tiniest ones with intricate and colorful patterns. He could have given us eyes only able to see in shapes and shades of grey, but He gave us vision for color and detail as well. Everywhere His creation, even in this groaning, fallen form, testifies to His goodness and majesty.

Let us praise Him for butterflies and blooms.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Jack O'Lantern {Reprise}

When adversity carves you open,
Empties out the flesh and fruitfulness
Of life before the knife;
Gouges gaping, jagged wounds
Too severe to scar--

That emptiness carves room for grace
And otherworldly light
To shine salvation into the wounds
Of this dim and frightful night.

Life beyond the knife
Is not extinguished
But aflame
With glory.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
2 Corinthians 4:6-7, NIV1984

originally shared here in 2012

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Denali National Park {Lone Star to Last Frontier, 2015}

For the backstory, please see the post, "Courage, Dear Heart!" This post includes many photos (sorry, not sorry), so e-mail readers may prefer to view the Web version of Denali National Park.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
Proverbs 19:21, ESV

My mom, loaded down with her Bible study bag

The guys on their morning hike

Our last excursion of the Alaskan adventure was a guided nature tour on a repurposed schoolbus up into the mountains of Denali National Park to see the local wildlife. We had reserved spots on the 4-hour tour, thinking that by the end of the trip that would be all the time on a schoolbus we could manage. The day before the excursion, however, we learned that our intended tour was canceled due to lack of participants. The cruise line offered to upgrade us to the 8-hour tour instead at no charge.

Eight hours on a schoolbus? We discussed it but felt the Lord had rearranged our plans for a reason, so he would give us (and our backs) the stamina for the long drive. Lest you think I exaggerate the character of our transportation, this was our bus:

We had to lower the top windows to get clear shots of anything.
Even if the wildlife had been camera-shy that day, we Texans were pretty excited about snow in September, especially when the temperature was still near 100F back home.

The first animals we saw were a pair of moose. Unfortunately, they were moving so quickly we only had one chance at a photo, and the camera couldn't see the moose in the forest for the trees. (He's the brown blur in the center of the frame. Really, he is.)

The terrain and plants changed, and we stopped for our first break, but the moose were all we had seen. If we had received the tour we had reserved, this would have been the point where we turned around and drove back the way we had come.

Instead, we ascended farther into the mountains and soon met the Alaskan state bird, the willow ptarmigan (or alpine chicken).

The snow fell harder, but our driver spotted something large at the top of a hill:

A grizzly bear.

Our guide said it was foraging for the last remaining wild blueberries in these scrubby bushes before it turned in for its long winter's nap. It was near enough for us to tell it was a large bear, but not near enough for a good photo through the snow.

The next subjects were more cooperative: a whole flock of Dall sheep, named for the scientist who discovered them. These are all ewes and lambs. Even the females of this species have horns.

Our second rest stop, at around the 3-hour mark, proved to be as far up the mountain as the bus could safely go, due to the snow and icy roads farther up.

On the way back, we spotted our friend the grizzly again, and this time he was a little closer:

Around the time I handed my camera (and 300mm lens) back to Amore and slid the upper half of my body back through the bus window into the cabin, I remembered the driver's earlier speech about keeping all arms and legs inside the vehicle because wild animals are, well, wild. If you know me well, you will know I must have been really excited about grizzly photos to completely forget a safety rule.

Then we saw some male Dall sheep, sharpening their curlicue horns:

Then we saw yet another grizzly! This one was briefly stopped in the road in front of the bus. The driver said we might get some really good shots of it if we were all quiet and didn't move quickly so as to shake the bus. As it turns out, grown-ups aren't any better and keeping still and quiet when excited than a classroom of schoolchildren are.

As a consolation prize, we watched the bear cross the river.

The driver told us the pronounced shoulder ridge, clearly visible here, is specific to grizzly bears. 

The remainder of the drive was quiet but still lovely in the dimming light. As we walked from the main lodge back to our rooms, it dawned on me that the most interesting wildlife we saw that day appeared on the part of the trip we hadn't planned to take.

Sometimes when the Lord asks us to do something we fear may be too hard for us, it just feels hard and we have to trust His Word and character that it will be worth it later on. Sometimes, though, He asks us to do more than we think we can because He wants to give us something better--right then--than what we had wanted for ourselves. I don't know about you, but those occasional immediate, visible rewards encourage me in the waiting and trusting Him for the long-term, invisible rewards.

O for grace to trust Him more!