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October 2017

Featured Field of Ashes Life The Writing Journey Winter's Prey

Writing Journey: Book Research or Unforgettable Adventure

October 17, 2017

Most of the time, writing means sitting down to the computer and cranking out word after word, but sometimes it takes you places. Most of my writing can be researched online or through books, but recently it required a little real life investigation, which turned out to be an unforgettable adventure.

A while back, I was working on a story that is way down the line in the Barren Fields Fruitful Gardens Series, and, in the process of researching, I had an idea. What if I set parts of the stories in real life ghost towns to honor those who lived there? Even though the towns, for whatever reason, didn’t survive, they still are a part of our history. In fact, sometimes they are a huge part of our history. So over Labor Day weekend, two friends and I headed out to explore the first ghost town to find a potential place in the BFFG series: Maiden, MT.

My two friends prefer not to have an online presence, so they will go unnamed, but I should say that this sort of adventure is our favorite way to spend a Saturday. This Saturday, however, may have been one of the most exciting.

Maiden, MT, a mining town established in 1881, has been on my radar as a possible setting for a story for long time. Over the last couple of years, I’ve done online research and found information in an extremely old book of Montana history. But the more I read, the more I felt it might be better to see it. There was just one problem. I kept reading that the location of the town was now on private property and could only be viewed at a distance from the road.

I figured even that would be better than not seeing it at all. Even so, on Friday night before the trip, I decided to try one last time to find out who owned the property. To my surprise, I found a video telling a little bit of the history of Maiden, including the fact that Maiden still has one year-round resident. (You can watch the video here.)

I sent a quick email to the producer of the video, but by morning I hadn’t heard anything. I did a little more investigating and found a phone number. The number worked! I left a voicemail, hoping to hear back from Maiden’s sole resident.

Meanwhile, we loaded up and headed out of town. It was a beautiful day. Hot and clear as most of the summer had been. We hadn’t gone far, when my phone rang. The next thing I knew, we were setting up an appointment to tour Maiden right after we visited the Central Montana Historical Museum in Lewistown. But those plans were about to change.

Lavina, MT had barely disappeared from our rear-view mirror when a little column of smoke appeared on the horizon. This year’s fire season in Montana was incredibly bad. Over one million acres burned. You’ve heard the song, It Only Takes a Spark, well, that pretty much summed up our summer. The further we went the larger the column of smoke grew. A few more corners and, just as we started up a rise, we all realized the fire was near the highway just ahead of us. Even with that realization, however, we didn’t expect to see flames along the road as we crested the hill.

As I snapped this picture from the passengers seat (the only pic we got), my friend said, “Do they need help?”

I took a quick survey. The fire had already burned down one hillside and was about to climb the next one. Four men with shovels were along one edge. That was it. There were no emergency vehicles on scene.

“Yes,” I said. “They need help.”

We pulled over and started looking for a way to help. The only shovel we had was a plastic snow shovel, which was pretty useless. We found a rug and started beating the flames back as best we could. We took turns, swinging the heavy rug over our head and down through the flames to extinguish them in the dirt. While one of us beat the flames, the others stamped out whatever we could with our feet. Between our rug-beating and the men with the shovels, we kept the fire’s progress to a slow crawl. The Ryegate fire department arrived just in time. The wind was beginning to kick up and would have pushed the fire wildly once it topped the hill. Within just a few minutes, they had the east edge extinguished and were working on the north edge.

Forty minutes after jumping out to help, we loaded back into the car and drove away, along with the others who had stopped to help. We were all strangers. We’ll probably never meet again. But for that moment, we were neighbors.

Our journey took us on to Harlowton where we stopped to clean the soot off of our arms and faces (we were quite the singed, smelly bunch most of the day). We had just gotten back on the road when we came across a pair of bear cubs. This isn’t something you see along the highway every day. We stopped and took pictures from the car, all the time trying to spot the cubs’ mama, but she was nowhere in sight. We later found out that the cubs had to be captured because they could not be reunited with their mother.

We had one more unexpected delay when we saw a man at work—doing a job I would never want. Can you imagine having the job of repairing the massive windmills on a wind farm? My hands start sweating just thinking about it.

By the time we reached Lewistown, we were way behind schedule. So, once again, we shifted our plan. Rather than touring the museum, we simply stopped by to pick up some brochures that we were supposed to take with us to Maiden and then headed out of town.

We found the road into the Warm Spring Creek Canyon and made our way to Maiden, where our host gave us a personal tour of the property that now belongs to his family. He showed us the sweet little porch where he was about to host a party; gave us a tour of the refurbished saloon, which he remembers as his grandfather’s assay office; and then sent us off to wander as we pleased.

 

After much exploring, we said our goodbyes and piled back into the car to head through Maiden Canyon, past the Spotted Horse Mine, and over to the ghost town of Gilt Edge, MT.

We may have gone the wrong way from Gilt Edge and come to a dead end. But that’s okay because in the process we saw these guys.

 

We finally made our way back to Lewistown, had supper, and then headed home with happy hearts and an adventure under our belts that we will never forget. Whoever said writing is a boring profession never did book research Montana style.

 

 

Never read the Barren Fields, Fruitful Gardens series? Check them out here!

Featured Field of Ashes Life

The Importance of a Quiet Heart

October 6, 2017

“Marc turned back toward the gently flowing waters. The creek was deep and quiet here, its only sound a soft whispering as it cut beneath the grass hanging over its banks. He couldn’t help but think of Psalm twenty-three as he watched it. The Lord had brought him to the still waters, and now he must drink. With that thought, he spread his Bible open…”

— Field of Ashes, pg. 95

 

I lay in bed becoming aware that the world outside my windows was waking up and coming to life. It was a quiet, peaceful moment. The ceiling fan whirred above me, sending a gentle breeze down on the room and dispelling the summer heat.

“Lord,” I prayed, “thank you for this time. It’s my quiet place. No noise, no interruptions, no responsibilities, no deadlines, no burdens. Just You, me, and the quiet of the morning before the world wakes up.”

But I had barely prayed the words before a question arose in my heart. “Why? Why is this your only quiet place? It didn’t used to be that way. There used to be many quiet moments in quiet places, places to which you went for that restful, restorative, sweet fellowship with the Lord. What changed?”

Answers clicked up in my head like a rolling schedule board high above a busy train station floor. Thurrrrr, it rolled, and the list came into place:

  • The Internet
  • The American obsession with multi-tasking and busyness
  • The noise of advertising and the constant commercialism and materialism
  • The changes that came crashing in after Dad passed away and altered every aspect of life.

The list went on until it stopped at a place I had not expected it to go. It wasn’t a loud answer. It was whispered by a still, small voice.

  • You don’t have a quiet spirit.

And I knew, with a horrible groaning in my heart, that it was true. My heart had filled with a desperate need to accomplish, to meet deadlines, to be productive. It was full of the sense that if I missed one thing, failed at one thing, everything else would fall apart.

The night before, as I crawled into bed my heart cried out in desperation, “Lord, I cannot do it anymore. I don’t have the strength to keep going in this particular area. It has to be You because I can’t.”

Now, He was letting me see how far carrying concern and responsibility that should be His had actually taken me.

 

The Reality of Survival Mode

Crisis throws us into survival mode. Even now as our country faces multiple tragedies many people are, have been, or will be thrown into a state of simply seeking to survive. It is a place where the trivial is of no value; the smallest conflict or struggle is enormous; mornings are scary; nights are dreaded because it means starting all over when you wake up—it is a constant struggling to make it one more day.

Living in survival mode, is like scaling a mountain by your fingernails. Leaving survival mode is just as difficult. Just when you think you see a glimpse of light in a very dark, thick forest of difficulty, the fog rolls in with some new challenge. You take a step and find solid ground, only to have it slip away as your foot bears down with your full weight. You grab at branches only to find them snakes. You find a handhold, only to feel it give way and shatter down the cliff as you cling on for life.

But at some point we must leave, and our leaving must be intentional.

 

My Own Struggle to “Survive”

Before my dad passed away, I liked to go for quiet fellowship with the Lord at a place along the Yellowstone River. I spent at least one day a month hiking, praying, and spending time in the Word. After Dad died, I made it to that quiet place three times in three years.

Part of me, somewhere deep inside, gave up on quiet places. It gave up on a lot of things. It took upon itself the responsibilities that had presented themselves and said, “When all of this is over the quiet places will return.” But “this” just kept going on. Event after event, relationship after relationship, driving further and further into my consciousness the failures, the weaknesses, the ugliness and worthlessness of who I was to those around me; the need to succeed in the work God had given and the awareness of my complete inability to do it all roared like a storm around me. The struggles went on and on, finances, time balance, the weight of an unknown future, and the expectations of others (be they real or perceived).

And then it broke, all of it. I left yet another emotionally devastating conversation and drove to my quiet place. I sat on a bench overlooking a still pond and wept. I watched the geese, ducks, and hawks. I watched the breeze whisper its way through the reeds and cattails along the shores. I watched the clouds float across a brilliant sky, and I cried. I longed for a companion in those moments. Someone to “do life with.” Someone to wrap their arm around my shoulders and just be there.

I cried out to the Lord for His help for a renewed understanding of His love, for a renewed sense of His presence, and for something to change. In His mercy, he sent the most amazing gift. The most amazing reminder that HE was there: an enormous cloud, perfectly shaped like a heart, drifted slowly across the sky. Tears fell anew, and on that day, I decided to leave survival mode.

 

Leaving the Turmoil

But it is not an easy path out. Leaving the turmoil involves cutting relationships that are doing more harm than good, even if the intent of the other person is to help. It involves letting God change your perspectives from mere survival to hope and confidence, which feels impossible when you’re broken. But God is the God of the impossible.

The path out involves acknowledging and embracing your limitations. It involves “putting on your glasses” so you can see in the distance and not just what is up close, letting God mend the places where your heart says, “I can’t” so that it cries out “God can.” It is a whittling process of cutting away the fears that come in crisis, peeling back the protective walls we build.

Leaving the turmoil is a process of remembering the importance and strength of living open-handed and remembering the importance of the quiet place, not just along the river…but more importantly in our heart.

 

Building the Quiet Place

Winter will be upon soon. The snow will cover my quiet places along the river. But that does not have to be my only quiet place, nor should it be. Yes, the quiet of the morning before the world awakes can be my quiet place, but there is another place that must be built and maintained before any physical location will suffice—the quiet place of the heart.

That ugliness and that overwhelming sense of failure brought on by the tormentors of crisis pale when we remember that the meek and quiet spirit is of great price in God’s sight. We need not worry about how others see us, nor even how we see ourselves. God sees us, not through human eyes but rather He looks on us through the work of Jesus Christ. He looks upon those things, which are hidden, the things not corruptible. And when He finds a quiet heart it is of greater value to Him than costly pearls.

But how do we build that quiet place in our heart?

 

Surrender

The quiet heart is the meek heart: The heart that has placed everything in the hands of God—itself, its ambitions, hopes, anxieties, fears, goals, and dreams. It releases control. It yields up any possessive sense of responsibility. It submits to the will of God and commits the out come to Him.

This does not mean we become lazy. We become prayerfully obedient, not rushing ahead to do what seems best, but humbly bowing our heart to seek His guidance. Surrender means pausing in the storm to let the Master save the ship.

 

Rest

The quiet heart (according to the Greek) is the heart that keeps its seat. It’s the heart that does not jump up and fix everything. It rests. But how do we rest in the storm or in the crisis that follows the storm? We stretch out our hand, that open hand that has let go of everything, and reach for the Savior.

“Come unto me,” He calls to all of us who are weak and heavy laden, “and I will give you rest.”

He never leaves us, nor forsakes us; but when we refuse to quiet our heart before Him, we cannot see His hand through the tumult. The hand is always there. The question is, will we come to Him or will we allow the waves to pull us under?

“Take my yoke upon you,” He continues, “and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Our rest and surrender can only grow as we come and let Him teach us.

 

Focus

Knowing, trusting, and keeping our mind fixed on Him builds the quiet place of the heart. When He is our vision, the rest falls away. Our circumstances may not change, but the process of walking through them becomes a process of knowing Him better. Storms become the evidence of His power to calm them. Difficulty becomes the proof of His power to overcome. Emptiness is filled with His presence. Ugliness is lost in the beauty of His holiness. Turmoil is silenced by His peace. Crisis becomes the rejoicing of His astonishing power, provision, and grace.

“Let not your heat be troubled,” Jesus said. And He meant it.

 

Are you in crisis, be it big or small? Are you living in survival mode, hoping to just make one more day? Are responsibilities overwhelming your spirit? Is your heart quiet or tumultuous? Is it a place of fellowship with the Lord or a place of gasping for air? Don’t let another moment pass without reaching out your empty hand to take His. Let Him quiet your heart. Let Him teach you to be still.

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