From Powell, WY to Idaho Falls, ID

IMG_1314We have been trying to collect Starbucks mugs from each state we go to. There are no mugs made for Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho because they do not have enough Starbucks.

It seems like the entire west is a national forest. We have spent two weeks driving into, around, and through Yellowstone National Park, which has about a dozen or so other parks attached to it. There is nothing but land out here, with a few small communities sprinkled in-between.

IMG_1333To say the scene is eye-popping is getting a little redundant. There is a temptation to ho-hum what you’re seeing because around every bend is a new vista that is amazing.

Today we made the trek from Powell, through Cody (the former home of Buffalo Bill Cody, and why the town was named), through the eastern gate of Yellowstone, to the Teton National Forest to see the Teton Mountains, to Jackson Hole, WY, to Idaho Falls, ID.

The Tetons were stunning.IMG_1326

Jackson Hole was bumper to bumper for miles and miles. It took a long time to get through there. I’d love to go back just to hang. Too much to see.

Idaho is green, lush, and beautiful.

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Preaching in Powell

IMG_1255We rolled into Powell, WY on Saturday, June 20, nearing the end of our first month on the road. We began Friday, May 22nd.

(I’m already feeling sad about going home. I don’t want to. This has been amazing in so many ways. I try not to think about going home.)

Powell is, as they say, in the middle of nowhere. I think that is approximate to what it felt like. They have a downtown that reminds you of 1955. It was fantastic. There are more 20150622_201812cattle than people in WY (I think). It seems like they said there were 500,000 people in the state. There are more than that in the Upstate of SC.

I totally loved this place. They are spread out, not on top of each other. They are appreciative of our work, which is different from back home in that nobody comes to Powell to serve them. Back home there are “one million” ministries. In Powell there are hardly any.

The fact that we would come to them impressed them, though from our point of view it was not that big of a deal in that we wanted to serve them. It really was a joy.

They heard of us from the Internet, which is (the Internet) a lifeline for them. It is, almost, the only way they can get anyone into their town, cyber-ly speaking.

Doug, the counseling/discipleship pastor, has been promoting us to the community and the neighboring towns. They had several pastors and church people come from up to an hour away. Again, folks don’t come here, so when someone does, it’s a big deal to them. They will travel.

IMG_1291(Met one pastor from Wapiti, WY. The main drag in his town is a highway that takes you to the front entrance of Yellowstone. We stopped at his church building today, which is one of three buildings on the main drag. That’s it. Nothing else.)

I spoke on Sunday AM to a nearly church-wide Sunday school class. Then I spoke on Mon. and Tues. nights for two one-hour sessions each night on biblical counseling.

On Tuesday they had a meal for everyone, which was also great.

On Sunday we were invited to a family’s home, which included the extended family. There may have been 25 people, counting us. It was a large gathering. We stayed late into the day. They did not seem to be in a hurry, which was normal practice with all of them.

IMG_1284They also carry guns, which is like drinking water. Nearly everyone is “pack’in” though I think only one person had a gun at the church meeting; he was the former sheriff. It was real cool to get their perspective on that.

After the meeting on Tuesday night I was answering a few lingering questions, and I told this one couple about how I was counseling a teen once upon a time, and how I intentionally did not talk about God because he was ready to “jump me” on that.

What I actually told them was that “he had his hand on the trigger” ready to pop me if I mentioned God. It was a figure of speech, but not in WY. They thought, “Wow, he had a gun in counseling? Wow.”

Now that was funny.

I love those people. There was no pretentiousness about them. They were real and alive. And they love Jesus. Attentive, teachable, and hungry. They asked me a ton of questions about the “redemptive use of technology,” which is a core piece of our ministry. They, too, want to grow in how the use technology in telling others about Jesus.

We stayed at the home of Dave and Joanna Marquis. They moved to WY from Mass nine years ago. Long story. They had a full basement, and they appealed to us to stay a week, a month, two months, or longer. They were amazing.

He has an “Uber” type business where he drives people to their destination. E.g., he will drive to Brooklyn, NY to drive a couple to Charleston, SC. So, he goes from WY to NY to SC. No lie. He drives all over the country to pick people up to take them where they want to go, and his home base is in WY. Stunning.

It was so much fun to be in Powell, WY. Too many stories to put in this blog post, but a lifetime of memories in my heart.

Teaching counselors in Bozeman, MT

IMG_1161On Thursday I taught a group of counselors from Grace Bible Church in Bozeman, MT.

This is the church where Blake Shaw serves as the pastor over the counseling ministry. He has been at the church for several years, though just beginning to lead the counseling ministry.

He was born and reared in this area–not far from Bozeman. I first met Blake at The Master’s College. He was working on his masters during the season that I was working on mine. We met briefly, and that was about it.

We knew of each other, and he asked if I would speak while we were up there. Lori IMG_1140Moore, a Member of our community, was the main connection.

Blake leads a group of about 40 counselors, who are anywhere from being well-trained, to being curious about biblical counseling.

I met with Blake on Sunday for over three hours to talk about counseling, our lives, and the meeting on Thursday night. We agreed that we’d make it a Q&A type meeting. My hope was to meet the concerns of the people rather than just speaking on anything I wanted to.

IMG_1152This would allow me tackle things that are on the minds of the people. I spoke for about two-hours. There were quite a few questions, which made the meeting interactive and satisfying.

My personal encouragement was to know that there are a group of people in that part of the country who love God and want to make His Word plain and practical to folks who have questions and/or are struggling with situational or relational problems.

It was a joy to serve them.

Yellowstone

IMG_0709We visited Yellowstone on Monday and Wednesday. We drove through part of Yellowstone on Saturday, as we were heading to our conference in Powell, WY.

Yellowstone is a challenge to explain. In ways, it’s under-whelming in that it is so big that you can’t see it all, understand it all, or appreciate it all. It’s like driving through a country or a state: you drive, you see, you keep on going. That’s the macro view.

The micro view is hard to fully appreciate because there are one-hundred zillion micro views. It really seems limitless, which is part of what makes it simultaneously under-whelming (because it’s too much: like the national debt—at some point you can’t comprehend things that large) and satiably intriguing and amazing.

IMG_0807It depends on your view. I think a child would want to go to a theme park and enjoy the rides. That is not Yellowstone.

Then, again, you could go and spend ten years exploring the park and still not collect it all in your mind.

It’s kinda like God: He transcends our understanding and then He is near us, and we can’t get enough of Him.

Old Faithful

On Monday we went to see Old Faithful. There are over 300 geysers in the park; Old Faithful is the most famous and the one that shoots up the highest. IMG_1122

About every 90 minutes it squirts the hot steam and water into the sky. We were there long enough to see it go off twice. It was under-whelming to me because I had heard about it all my life and seen it in video, which somehow led me to think it was bigger than it really is.

It was okay, but the good news is that Yellowstone is so much more than that.

We spent the majority of the day exploring the other 300 geysers. Interesting was the word that kept coming to my mind, except when I was thinking about the word volcano.

Yellowstone is a volcano that would make Mt. St. Helens look like a damp firecracker. I could not help but think about why I was walking around on a volcano. I was not comfortable with that idea. I walked, observed, and prayed.

West Yellowstone

Our first day’s trip began by going to West Yellowstone, a smallish town (very small) that was built up around one of the entrances to the park.

IMG_0654The park is so big that there are several entrances, depending on where you are coming from. A theme park, even Disney World, has one entrance. Yellowstone is too big for that.

The West Yellowstone entrance led to a more flattened out tour of the park–for the most part. It did not have the character or the topography of the north entrance, which we took on Wednesday.

Our main goal was to see Old Faithful and the other geysers.

The geysers were hot, bubbling pools that had boardwalks built around them. We were regularly warned via signage to not get off the boardwalks.

You could be burned or you could sink in a hot pod, which would be something like a hot, boiling water, quicksand type experience. Even the rowdiest person in the park had no problem obeying that rule.

North Entrance

On Wednesday we took the north entrance route. BTW, from Bozeman both trips to the west or north entrances was a good two hours.

The town that was built around the north entrance was bigger and had more character. IMG_1064You could spend a half-day there and enjoy it.

We had a bison burger.

Delicious.

As for that part of the park, you immediately liked it within the first 500 yards. There were mountains and streams. The likelihood of seeing animals was also immediate.

The streams cutting through the vegetation was what you expected and wanted. It was simply beautiful. We quickly made it up to 6000 feet and kept climbing. We topped out at 9000 feet where we pulled over and had a snowball fight. In June.

We saw lots of elk, deer, and bison. I got within four feet (extended selfie-stick) to video a bison having dinner (dinner was not me). The elk were all over the place, including Mammoth Springs Resort, where there were picnic tables that you couldn’t get to because of the elk grazing all around them.

It was on this trip where we got the rainbow shot (see the Montana post). All of the animal shots were made from this trip too. Mountains, valleys, streams, animals, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and endless gorgeous shots of God’s creation dominated this day’s adventure.

If you are a hiker or camper type, this place offers endless surprises. You could camp here for months and never take it all in.

A Camper’s Caveat: This is the home where the bear and the bison roam. This is their place. Therefore, bear mace is essential, plus maybe a few other ways to protect yourself. The animals are not inhibited by us. Be warned.

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Montana

IMG_1092We rolled into Bozeman, MT on Friday, June 12. We spent the week with Jay and Lori Moore. Lori heard me at a conference in St. Louis in 2008. She became a Member of our site some time after that.

We talked a few weeks back, and she said we could stay at her place. We stayed from Friday to Saturday of the next week—a nine day stay that went way too fast. We left on Saturday to head to a conference in Powell, WY.

The Moore’s had an attic turned into an in-law apartment. The in-laws were traveling during our stay.

We went to their church meeting (Grace Bible Church) on Sunday and Yellowstone on Monday and Wednesday. I spoke to a group of counselors at GBC on Thursday. Our rest days were Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday.

I asked the kids on the last Saturday there for their top three highlights. All of them said, (1) the camper, (2) the Moore’s, (3) and then eclectic answers, which did include Yellowstone.

The camper

The Moore’s had a camper that goes over the back of a pickup truck sitting in their backyard. They use it for camping, while keeping it stabilized in the backyard when they IMG_0569aren’t camping.

The kids had several “out-of-body” experiences all week, meaning they were totally beside themselves when it came to that camper. For them it was their own house for a week without parental control. They camped by themselves in the backyard, in miniature house.

There is no good way to explain how glorious that was for them. They were “tickled to death” to have that kind of fun.

Ansa only came in to sleep in our apartment once (I think), which is a small miracle in that she is our last child to make her nocturnal journeys to our bed to finish her night of sleep. The temptation to be with us was mitigated by the wonder of the camper. I was so happy for them.

I think if I were a child and had a camper to sleep in, that I would also have out-of-body experiences. It is a kid’s dream—too good to be true.

Fake pictures

I had several discussions with different people throughout the week about how the pictures we were taking were not fake. You see three of them in this post.

These pictures (1) rainbow in Yellowstone, (2) mountains from the Moore’s apartment deck, and (3) the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, have not been altered in any way.

IMG_1048The one on the Moore’s deck looks like a fake background that someone pulls behind you to take a family shot.

I may have taken 20,000 pictures in my life (just exported 17,000 to my hard drive because I needed more space on my computer), and all of them failed to communicate well what my natural eye was seeing.

The pictures in this post are the FIRST that I have ever taken that accurately communicates what I was looking at. This place is stunning (under-statement).

You spend your days walking around Yellowstone like a tourist in New York City: looking up at the skyscrapers, with your mouth hanging open.

The Gospel

The Moore’s were amazing. Elyse (daughter) was an amazing youth camp director; she was constantly with the kids playing all kinds of board games and outdoor games. The kids loved her.

Collin (son) had a man cave. ‘Nough said. He lodged in the basement with 3D puzzles, IMG_0558guns, legos, computer stuff, and numerous other eclectic things collected over 22 years of living. He was also an amazing tech support for some tech solutions we needed.

Jay and Lori never stopped loving on us. They even bought me a jar of Mayonnaise. I hate Mayonnaise. I love folks with a sense of humor. They are fun.

Jay is a 50-something snowboarder (and shop owner). He may live a long time. He is the perfect mix of man and youngster, and he loves Jesus. He also has a miniature skateboard “park” in his backyard. He made me feel old.

Lori is another iteration of the Gospel. She made it clear by her actions that she was here to serve, not to be served. Her ongoing thoughtfulness was simultaneously convicting and satisfying.

It was a fantastic week in Bozeman, MT.

The heart of Mormon country

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On Thursday we drove into Salt Lake City, Utah. It was one of the most impressive entries into a town thus far. On both sides of the interstate were rolling, unending mountains. They were carpeted with a green velvety looking vegetation. It was exceptionally beautiful.

Where the Scottsdale mountains looked like piles of rocks with little vegetation, and at the Hoover Dam, just before Las Vegas, the mountains were brown, rolling, and marshmallow-y, Salt Lake City had the green stuff.

We stayed overnight and set out on Friday to see the Mormon Temple in the heart of the city, plus the Great Salt Lake.IMG_0512

The temple and surrounding campus was fascinating. I’m sure at one time it was more prominent, but due to the growth of the city the church campus was hovered over by the much taller buildings. It was also cramped into a tight square with no elbow room, so to speak.

We were not allowed into the temple. I was told that I was not worthy and that I did not have a “recommend”. We did walk around it though, and on three of the sides were wedding parties. A lady told me they have up to 70 weddings a day on the weekends.

There are several chapels where they get hitched, and then they take the pics on the steps of the temple.

IMG_0519The Mormon people were super-nice to us, and they all were pretty, as in clean-cut, smiley, and welcoming. I realize they were on their best behavior to us pagans, but it was noticeable how nice they were. (Honestly, they were more welcoming than many churches we attend. Sigh.)

I did not feel weird or icky or oppressed by being there, but I did feel sad for them, Probably about as sad as they felt for me. What can you do?

A religious impasse.

We went; we stopped; we saw; we talked; we left. That was that.

No desire to ever return.

The Great Salt Lake

Then we went to the Great Salt Lake. It’s 35 miles wide and 75 miles long. It can be IMG_0525between 15 and 40 feet deep, depending on the rains and what comes down from the mountains.

With no outlet, it is a basin lake that is the largest on this side of the Mississippi. It’s also the 2nd most salty body of water on earth, just behind the Dead Sea. It can get up to 25% salt content, where the oceans are about 3.5%. The Dead Sea is about 35%.

The kids walked way out into it and floated around a bit. They loved that, and it was most definitely a bucket-list item due to the nearly uniqueness of the place.

You could see for miles across the lake, though you could not see the other side. There were several islands in it.

It was a cool place to visit and a hot place to hang. There were not a lot of people at the park. Not sure why. There were hardly any sailboaters or boaters of any kind on the lake. It was beautiful, but not populated with tourists or locals.

We left SLC and made the long drive to Bozeman. We arrived around 9PM Friday night. It was still daylight, as the sun does not go down until after 10PM.

And it was drop-dead gorgeous.

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Bryce Canyon, Utah

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It is about an 8-hour drive from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City, Utah, and about another six hours to Bozeman, MT–our next teaching stop. We decided to make it four hours to Bryce Canyon, four hours to SLC, and then six hours to Bozeman. That would be three days.

To break it up we inserted Bryce Canyon as a day trip. As you can see in the pics it wasIMG_0484 well worth the stop. We spent about four hours there, though we could have spent a lot more time there by hiking down into some of the canyons.

The Grand Canyon satisfied my hiking ambitions so there was no compelling reason to hike into Bryce though it would have been amazing to catch the views from a below-the-rim perspective.

IMG_0480We drove about 17 miles into the national forest making viewing stops all along the way. The temperature was 57 degrees, which was a 50 degree drop from the 107 in Scottsdale. It was over 100 in Las Vegas too.

Even though we have an extended time of travel it is never enough to take in all that the LORD has provided to us through the creation of the US. It’s a beautiful place at every turn. Eye-popping shots that begged to be taken.

Of course, being in a hurry did not help. As we were making our way down the long grade from the highest point, when a park ranger pulled me over for doing 45 in a 30. He was gracious in that he did not give me a ticket. I deserved it, but was thankful he let us go.

It was good for the kids to experience that embarrassing moment as it gave us another opportunity to talk about the Gospel as seen in the mercy of the LORD through others, specifically the park ranger.

I slowed down after that.

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