Yellowstone, You’re Amazing!

Where is the summer going?!?!

My end-of-summer-angst is setting in. It’s almost August, and it feels like the fading summer. The days are a little shorter. The sun’s a little longer. The cicadas are buzzing. The grass is drying up. There are even some changing leaves in my favorite spots.

Time is just always moving along, isn’t it?

I have needed time recently –  to reflect on some traveling I was blessed to do in July. It was a memorable – epic even – adventure, with my parents and sister. It was celebratory for various family reasons. And for myself, it signified SO much. Such as a milestone victory from just the prior July going through a (minor) back surgery, after 8 months of severe, debilitating pain…traveling and hiking takes on a whole new meaning when you are grateful for every single step!

We ventured out west, to visit a few national parks, most notably, Yellowstone National Park – the first, the oldest, and the most unique (I’d say!) park in the U.S.A. I was blown away!

It’s been a few weeks now – it’s taken time to let it all sink in, to sift through my pictures, to think through my thoughts. My most simple summary is this: it was refreshing; it was beautiful and incredibly awe-inspiring; and it grew my gratitude for home.

To try and pick a favorite feature from the trip is challenging. I tend to be drawn to themes, which is what I am gravitating towards to make sense of what I saw out west.

Here’s how I’d group my favorite aspects:

  • Water
  • Wildflowers
  • Wide-open spaces

Working on blog posts to elaborate on each of these, so stay tuned for more words and pics!

The incredible water features, wildflowers, and wide-open spaces were stunning, and signified some meaningful messages. Everything is just so much bigger, and bolder out west, it seems to me. And yet – by the end of trip when some anxiety got stirred – I found myself going to peaceful places in my mind to calm myself – my nature spots back home. Perhaps not quite as grand, not quite as wide-open, but familiar, safe, and beautiful to me.

Nature can’t just be a sightseeing, thrill-seeking adventure. Nature is needed, day in and day out, or at least, week in and week out! The mountaintop experiences (literally for me on this trip) are incredible! But the daily nurturing of our need for creation takes cultivation. And as I have found through years of trials, it’s life-changing. In small, simple ways that take effect over time.

Yellowstone is absolutely amazing. The incredible beauty and uniqueness of it will grow your love for nature and the outdoors. Plus, the grandness of it, will make you feel small – a healthy perspective for all of us – yet will simultaneously remind you of your place in the world, being known and loved by the Creator of all of Yellowstone’s majesty. So go to Yellowstone – soak up every square inch of it (as we attempted in 3 jam-packed days!). AND, go to your park, your place, your little square foot of yard or backyard garden, and soak up the peace of Creation, and the love and signs of God, that flow through it every day.

In Death Valley, You Are Never Alone

Three Things to Remember in Hard Times

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
Psalm 23: 4, NKJV

Death Valley, CA, August 2019

Last year for Labor Day, I headed west. It felt good to take a few days off work, pack up my hiking gear, and hop on a plane (that world seems so different and long ago!).

One of the national parks I visited was Death Valley. I was interested in visiting it for a number of reasons, including my hope of experiencing it as a spiritual pilgrimage.

Being that it was the end of August, and pushing 115 degrees, it wasn’t going to be a long visit, but I wanted to see the main sights. It was incredible with an “other-worldly” feel to it.

Artists’ Palette Drive

Unfortunately, what I hoped to be a peaceful and reflective experience, turned into a scary one by the end of the trip. Thanks to an unidentified critter that stung me, I got to experience the body’s fight/flight response in full blown action! By the end of it, I was fine, but in the moment it was quite frightening; it truly felt like I was living through a “death valley” moment in Death Valley.

Badwater Basin, lowest point in North America, 282 feet below sea level

I survived my literal Death Valley adventure, but I didn’t know more “valley of the shadow of death” experiences would be coming in 2020. No one knew the Covid pandemic was coming and that we would collectively be living through a valley season.

Over this past year, I’ve been reflecting on three important things to remember during hard times:

  1. Don’t go through Death Valley Alone

In hindsight, I should not have gone to Death Valley National Park alone; I let my independent spirit get the best of me. The same goes for any valley experience – we can’t do it alone. Even the fact that I couldn’t get cell service when I needed it in Death Valley, painfully highlighted how it can be downright dangerous when we can’t be connected!

Whether it’s an immediate traumatic experience, or long-lasting suffering – we need one another. The beauty of God’s design for humans reflects this need. He created us to exist in families; we are literally dependent when we come into the world. And he created the church, as one body with many members. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Cor. 12:26, ESV)

We were made as humans to need one another.

2. Be Prepared for Death Valley

I may have made the miscalculation of going alone, but at least I was prepared. I researched to know what I was getting into; I hydrated and had lots of water, I wore lots of suntan lotion and a hat, I had energy bars and gatorade, a first aid kit, a paper map, a flashlight, and I always made sure I had a least a half tank of gas. Those were wise things to do to be prepared.

Similarly, when going through a real-life valley experience, we need to be equipped. Prayer, Worship, Scripture, the Church – these are our lifeblood in times of suffering. And they prepare us for whatever suffering may come. By studying the Word we become immersed in God’s truth so that it becomes an anchor when we are wandering a wilderness.

Prayer, Worship, Scripture, the Church – these are our lifeblood in times of suffering.

3. Trust that God is with you in Death Valley

No matter what we are going through, or will go through, God has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us. As Moses preached to Joshua and the Israelites after they’ve been wandering for so long and are prepared to enter the Promised Land: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6, ESV)

No matter what we are going through, or will go through, God has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us.

During my frightening experience, with no humans around and no cell service, all I could do was remain grounded in knowing the presence of God was with me. Looking back, I am amazed at how he gave me the peace I needed (and how he designed the human body to respond in a crisis!).

A hot, sweaty, tired smile right before I got stung!

Life can throw us some very challenging experiences. How marvelous that the Creator of the Universe is with us every step of the way, longing to help and comfort us. We may have those times where we feel completely on our own and helpless, but we can trust that we are never truly alone.

Dante’s Peak, overlooking Badwater Basin in Death Valley

If life feels like a desert, be encouraged. Find family, friends, and the fellowship of believers to connect and carry you. Equip yourself with prayer and Scripture. Meditate and take comfort in the truth that God goes before you and behind you – he is with you as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

“And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”
Isaiah 58:11 ESV

All photos taken and owned by me, Bethany Peck.