This is the third and last in the series of my Alaskan ponderings. May you be blessed by the glory of God given to us, for us, that we might worship the One who created all and, in him alone, find our fulfillment.
When I was a kid, my dad would tickle me in the ribs ‘til I screamed.
“STOP! Daddy, STOP! I can’t STAND it!”
Laughing until tears rolled and I could hardly breathe, I wasn’t sure I really wanted Dad to stop. But there’s only so much joy a little one can hold before they feel like they’ll just burst wide open.
Just when I thought God had given his grand finale of glory in Alaska, the glory just kept coming. Just when I thought I had pushed God too far, had asked for too much, had expressed too much emotion (you know—those tears of thankfulness?) and he would think I was just—too—much—for him . . .
He went over-the-top. Might as well just jumped straight over Mt. McKinley. And the prayer in my head burst through my lips.
“Oh my God! Oh my GOD!” (And I wasn’t swearing or using his name in vain!)
That’s all I could say as he kept opening my eyes to one gift after another, each one better than the next.
* * *
Now, I must pause here to be clear about something very important to me—to all of us humans . . .
The greatest gift is being one with the One who made us.
Because there is no greater love.
And the greatest love is the greatest gift. All other gifts are slivers of glory. Little bits and pieces. Yet, they are so stunning, so marvelous, we risk worshipping the created instead of the Creator. And so I pray for myself, for all of us . . .
Let it never be so, O Lord! Let us always and forever see your holy hand attached to every gift and let us always and forever believe that everything is always sifted by your holy hand, wrapped in love, before it reaches us. Give us grace to believe that every gift, even packaged as pain, is pure love pulling us closer to your tender heart that wants nothing more than for us to be complete in you alone. For you alone complete us. And give us grace to believe that all is gift. All is given to grow us up into your perfect likeness because you alone are the essence of love and truth. Give us eyes to see your gifts everywhere and in everything, no matter how they look in the present. Give us faith to believe that in love, because you are so crazy in love with us, always in love, you are just chipping away at all the hard that keeps us bound, revealing the true nature of our souls before sin, making us able to let you in, completely. Amen.
Now, back to the gifts God gave and the message written inside the very last one!
* * *
Is there any better gift than a close relationship with our great God who delights in us, who blesses us with so much wonder?
First there were the eaglets on Harvester Island, only days away from trying their wings with their parents.
Then there were the seals hauled out on the rock protruding from the depths of Uyak Bay.
Far away, we spotted a pod of fin whales—the second largest whale in the world—blowing water spouts. How close would we get?
This close . . .
Six whales who knew we were there in our small boat and yet they kept on feeding, shallow diving, leaving us in peace to watch them arching and breathing, thrilled.
As close as twenty feet from mama brown bears—the largest in the world—fishing for salmon and some just resting with their cubs atop a small waterfall.
Then in Denali.
Grizzly sows and their cubs munching on berries, ambling up hillsides not far from the road.
As if this weren’t enough, I felt somewhat— shall we say— greedy. Not so much for myself, but for my husband. His favorite wild animal is moose. So, toward the end of our 12-hour excursion, I prayed to see a moose.
As I described in my last post, people in the back of our bus saw a moose within five minutes of my prayer. I missed the moose. So did my husband.
How often I miss the gifts of God because I don’t have my eyes open—or I don’t have my eyes looking in the right direction?
But God is still so loving, so wanting to thrill us with his ever-presence, with his intimacy.
As I rested my head on the window of the bus, what should my eyes see but a wolf heading straight for me, for us in the bus—one of only 52 wolves spread out over 6 MILLION ACRES of Denali National Park. Only 4 percent of people ever spot a wolf in Denali. No moose sighting. But God gave me a WOLF instead. AND I was able to capture a photo?
CRAZY GOOD! CRAZY THANKFUL!
I was shaking and giggling with excitement and thanks to God.
I thought, “That’s IT! God didn’t give me a moose because he had something better to draw me into even greater praise and gratitude.”
I felt like my 6-year-old self, laughing on the inside saying, “Stop Daddy, STOP!” As if I would just burst with joy. As if I couldn’t take ONE MORE GIFT— not ONE MORE moment of JOY!
I was completely satisfied. Beyond satisfied. Like God couldn’t do better. Like I had seen the best of God.
How short-sighted my vision, how still small my faith!
The next day, we were driving along toward a hiking trail and what should we see walking right down the center of the left lane coming toward us?
A caribou sticking his tongue out at us?
Walking like he owned the road or something?
I tried to control my laughter so I could steady my camera!
And then, along our Savage River hike . . .
This caribou couple was so close that we had to step off the trail to keep our required 25-foot distance! And they just stayed there letting me click away with my camera. I swear they were park plants for tourists, probably paid pretty well.
And then, the next day, the LAST day . . .
God’s just too MUCH, I think sometimes! If he keeps thrilling like this, I might just explode from too much joy from too much glory! And glory guts would be spewed everywhere! And knowing God, he’d make my glory guts beautiful just to thrill some other passer-by! I think like this. I truly believe God makes all things beautiful in time. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
Once again, I saw that God always seems to save his best for last.
You know that moose I had prayed to see? Like it’s really a BIG deal that I see a moose, right? Like, really, in the BIG scheme of things—with all the awful tragedies occurring all over the planet—how dare I ask to see a MOOSE! God has far more important requests to attend to. Right? And who am I to ask God for such trivial stuff, right? I could taste the fang poison of accusation.
Greedy! Selfish! God doesn’t care about your tiny needs or wants.
Half-way into our 8 mile hike up Savage River Alpine Trail, I just happened to glance to my right.
In this vast terrain where I’m just a speck, I just happened, at that exact time, to turn my eyes to the right.
And I saw THIS . . .
Just standing there, staring at me . . .
And I couldn’t help but cry a couple tears and whisper, “THANK YOU!”
That God would hear me, care for me, so intimately, that he would cause a moose—and not just any old moose—but a BIG BULL MOOSE with a BIG FULL RACK—to stand right there for as long as I wanted so I could capture my wish, my prayer, God’s GIFT, with my camera—so I could come back and share not just the GIFT—but the GIVER with all who need to know how tender and tremendous the love of our God is—for us.
It wasn’t about the moose.
It was about using the moose to show this . . .
He hears. He cares. He wants us to dance with joy in his presence and burst our hearts wide open in praise for a relationship so great, so unlike any other, so pure and perfect, we fall down and worship, which is the most freeing, fulfilling position we could ever experience, this life and the next.
And isn’t it just like a loving parent to save for last what you thought would tickle you most? Isn’t it just like a loving parent to give you something beyond what you ever dared to pray instead of what you prayed for first? Isn’t that the most amazing parent ever?
That’s our God. That’s how he loves. That’s how he loves you and me.
The older I get, the closer I feel to the one who loves me more than any human can. He is with me always, thrilled to thrill.
And sometimes the greatest thrills come later, even last. Sometimes it takes a while to taste and know that the LORD is good. That’s OK. He’s patient.
And sometimes, our ever-good God gives us painful times. That’s OK too.
Because in times of hardship, we learn to lean in. I know now he always He always “has my back” and my heart, holding me gently but firmly. Every tear, every broken piece of this crazy, whirlwind of a life, he has me and all my broken pieces in his grasp, arranging and rearranging.
He wastes nothing he allows.
All has holy purpose.
He ordains everything.
All is grace.
All is good—ultimately—because God is sovereign—eternally.
And all God’s gifts are good, even when they hurt.
Because it’s often in the hurt that our prone-to-wander hearts come back to the only One who can thrill us beyond our wildest hopes—who can fill that ever-aching hole in our hearts completely, satisfying us with good fruits that come only from him—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Yes . . .
My soul finds rest in God alone, my salvation comes from him. Psalm 62:1-2
In him is the fullness of life. (See Ephesians 1:23, Ephesians 3:19, Ephesians 4:13, Colossians 2:9-15)
I saw caribou herds running, enormous racks atop their heads with white flag tails flying behind. And I thought how, we too, can run free, far and wide with our God, through the expanse of his creation, through the stretch of our lives, over every mountain and through every valley, when we wave the ego-flag of surrender and allow God to help us carry our burdens pressing down and into our souls. With God, we can run free when we know to whom we’re running—the One who loves without measure—the One who is thrilled to thrill his beloved.
Jesus walks with us always, pulling for us. Always pulling for us. Always thrilling us, for those who will be thrilled.
And Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-19