All posts by ljmonson

Fall is the end of the beginning

Fall is the end of the beginning. Spring and summer are times of new life and growth but the fall is a special time.  A time of reflection and remembrance. The distinct crispness of the air sparks interest in lighting a fire and watching the sun set over the yellow, orange and red trees.   
This is the time of year when small towns in Northern Idaho like Orofino seem to wake a little later. It is as if the collective society just didn’t want to move away from the warmth of layered blankets braced against open window sleeping.  Amid their pillows and comforters there was a sense the coming of winter in the smells of wood smoke, smoldering leaves, and diesel fumes. Most of the newer homes were heated by oil fired furnaces which burned almost cleanly. Wood stoves were the norm for most. In the first days of fall there seemed to be a blue tinge to the air early as homes were warmed early each day.
The county had just resurfaced the street just outside of my red painted screen door with and oil slurry and a layer of small jagged rocks. With each tire rolling down our street a new grey specter of dust would rise.  Dust that permeated every corner and cranny of my world. We didn’t have a garage to shelter our little light blue Pinto wagon from the elements and sometimes it was difficult to tell if the car was out there amid the dust and diesel smoke.  The dust that rose from the two lane street was permeated with diesel smoke from the empty trucks.  The aroma hung in the still air from the parade of large snow treaded tires moving up the hill. They all were going up the valley, through our little town and in front of my door.
The logging trucks that usually rumbled through town before dawn on the way to the latest timber sale didn’t start quite so early in these late days of fall.  The drivers knew they would only make one trip instead of two each day.  It was just too dangerous to drive at night on those old logging roads.  Big trucks filled with big men all trying to meek out a living in an ever dwindling lumber supply. The available timber was being cut further and further up the hill. 
Orofino was not the end of the world, but as a friend once said, “you can see it from here.”  There was only one stop light in the town.  It hung from a cable across Main Street and it bore the scars of trucks filled with their burdens of logs piled just a little too high during the energetic months of summer.  It was almost a ritual each fall to replace the light.
On the lower sheltered hillsides the tamarack trees were starting to turn golden, then brown.  They were a stark contrast to the variegated green of the pine, cedar and fir trees. The trees in the town were mostly bare.  Each resident had raked the remnants of summer into small pyramids along the street side, and set them smoldering.  Each multicolored pile came with a little wisp of smoke raising high in the clear sky. They would smolder for days at a time.  Each pencil of smoke was an offering to the coming cold season to come. Each fanned again and again by each passing car or truck.
The Clearwater River went through town, dividing it in two.  The color was a deep dark green as it slowly swept down the valley.  In deep winter it would start to freeze along the edges, but now it flowed with defiance against the rocks.  Great swirls were the only marks of the car sized boulders that lay just under the surface. It was the time of year when the river was full of ocean going steelhead and die hard fishermen.  If you look closely you could see a few of these cold enthusiasts in their little silver boats plying for one of the silver fish, fresh up from the Columbia.  It was cold work and once in a while you would see a boat with a cook stove belching black smoke as it moved up and down the glassy river. A hearty people.
Alongside of the river is Idaho State Highway 12 and it was the main corridor for even more trucks. These trucks hauled Montana Red wheat from Great Falls to the port of Lewiston.  Rumbling day and night down that ribbon that connected the great wheat farms of Montana to the sea. About once a year one of these trucks would spill a load or worse not make a curve coming down from the Lolo pass and end in the river.  And the river would take the intrusion and roll it down and down the canyon and occasionally leaving only parts and pieces along banks.
Fall was the time of eagles.  Pairs of these majestic birds had come north to find a place to nest and rest before it was too cold to fish.  Here at the base of the Dworshack dam on the North Fork of the Clearwater River, the fishing was good for the soaring eagles.  Up the canyon in front of the dam they were protected from the upcoming winter blasts. It was here they would nest and hatch the next generation. Their white heads and dark bodies stood starkly against the pure blue of the sky.  They would soar and swoop in a mating dance all in anticipation of the distant spring.   
The Old Bridge, the only connection between the two sides of town, looked new and shiny from a distance.  But up close you could see it was just another layer of silver paint to cover the blemishes of age.  The rivets that held it together had been painted over so many times they had started to blend in with the rest of the aged iron. There had been talk of replacing it after the last big thaw that had weakened the substructure, but it serving its purpose.  The founding fathers just put another coat of paint on it to keep the bridge from falling way from rust. It was a testament to the never changing life that was Orofino.
For a month or so from now, the morning the ground would be covered with a bright and starry frost. The white enveloping blanket would last a little longer every day.  The frost was a promise of snow that all knew would come. 
To brace ourselves against the coming chill, the wood was stacked against the side of the house. Each stick cut with the sweat of summer was a promise of warmth and comfort for the coming winter. This stack of promise had to be used sparingly because there would be no replacement until next year. Fires were struck each morning just to lift the chill for the rest of the day and let go out by mid-morning. The kids were a little quieter these mornings.  Each trying not to get out of bed before the fire had warmed the kitchen.  It was difficult to get them up and ready for school.  Sweaters and coats stored for the summer were brought out to protect from the early morning touch of winter.
A couple of blocks down the Michigan Avenue was the testament of even earlier times. The Ponderosa was the meeting place for everyone.  It has stood the test of time and had won.  Each seat had be reupholstered many times but they were still sturdy after 30 years of big men and even stronger women.  Above the counter was a clock with a rotating flip card display of the local businesses surrounded by a faint hue of neon light.  Sugar was still in glass dispensers, not in pretty packets of white, pink and yellow. The cups were large and heavy and some with a chip or two bespeaking of the years of wear.  The default coffee in the Ponderosa was a cheap-cheap and not so good for you brew. The standard is to sweeten it with enough sugar and when it is finished there should be a remainder of undissolved sugar at the bottom to start the next cup.
The Ponderosa was the place of meeting for Kiwanis and Elks service clubs in town. If you sat in a corner and waited long enough the world of Orofino would come in the door.  The gyppo contractors, and woodsbosses would congregate early to share knowledge and prospects for the latest timber sale.  This group would always be in a hurry and leave quickly.  But the club most noteworthy kept no attendance and had no membership rolls. Each would sit in a designated spot and at the designated time each morning they would start their meeting.  It was the meeting place for the old loggers.  Each would sit at the warm up spot, drink coffee and trade stories of log jams, yellow pine and virgin cedar. Each season the club membership was getting smaller and smaller. The ravages of time and injury were taking their membership one by one.
At the same place and the same time every day but Sunday.  Sunday was when the wives and daughters forced them into their best church clothes and would drive them to church.  This club was special cadre of men with a special uniform and unique language.  The most senior of the club called themselves tree fellers, because a tree falls and the wielder of the ax did not. It was their club.  Their heavy wool plaid coats layered on the coat tree in the corner, they were dressed in the uniform of the past and leaning on the now worn café counter, they huddled together as if for warmth.  Green wool pants held by red suspenders and cut off above the boot tops was the dress of the day.  Big black boots, called chalks, with worn off nails in the soles, laced high and tight, covered the two pairs of wool socks protruding above the boot.  The boots resonated with metallic clamor as they walked in and out. A plaid long sleeved shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow was worn atop a faded pair of long sleeved long johns.
If you listened closely you would hear words like: choker, high line, wanigan, and peavey.  Each word was spoken with a special meaning to the group and most likely used to keep outsiders out of their domain. The only interruption allowed in their meeting was the waitress offering a fill up to the now lukewarm coffee they held in their grizzle hands.  
Life had turned into a slow clock ticking its way to eternity. Like the clock over the counter, their light was still shining but the cards were a little over worn. Their age and past crippling accidents no longer would allow them to venture into the high country for the next great stand of timber. That is if there was a next great stand of timber.  Most if it was gone.  Gone from years of logging.  Gone from years of sweat, pain, spent youth and great nature bending efforts of strength. The club members would speak of trees six feet thick that once were found just a few miles from town.  Now there was none to be found.  And the lament went on in the latest meeting of the fellers. Great men forced into retirement.  As easy as it would be to dismiss this all to the past and the Fellers Club along with it, their no frills approach to their autumn days has a welcoming familiarity.  They have become content in their lives.  Each remembrance brings a little jolt to the system as big as one more cup of coffee.
And the waitress asks for the sixth time, “Can I offer you a fill up?”  No I am fine.
It is all about memories.  Who a person is, is not what they have, or even what others think of him.  It is more than that.  It is your perception of your place in the whole.  And no matter what your perception is, it is always good.  It is good because that is the best it can be.  These fellers cannot change the number of logs on the hills but they can memorialize them in their demeanor and their resolve.
Today, I am more like the fellers in the Ponderosa, recollecting the glory days, than the brash young man willing to hike to the stars in search of fulfillment.  But there is not a day that goes by that a cold day in Idaho does not cross my mind.  And each time, I am reminded of the memories of wood smoke, dust, stale coffee and cold.  And it brings me warmth.

Finding Peace

Matthew 6:25,26  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”


Crazy talk!  Jesus, what are you telling me about how I should live my life? “Do not worry about your life”, sounds like a command. I may not worry as much as others I may know, but there are times when an emotion that could well be characterized as worry does pop its head up in my life. But Jesus, does this mean that when my brakes on my old pickup start to grind and the pedal is as soft as an over-ripe peach, I should not worry about going down the interstate at 70 miles an hour in rush traffic?

Perchance, I think what he is really saying is “Don’t let worry become my conditioned and continual response to circumstances out of my control.  I must rely moment by moment on his provision, promises, and plan. First, I must realize God is the source of my peace, and second, get my brakes fixed.

Expectant Greeter

John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”


I grew up in the 50s in a little town pushed up against the Pacific Ocean. Occasionally as the summer fog lifted, I would walk a mile or so down to the beach. Across the dunes, I would go. My shoes would fill with sand. I threw stones into the ocean surges. An occasional starfish would wash up and I would throw it back in. I would walk the beach looking for sand dollars and castaway junk thinking I would find something of great value. Sometimes I simply did nothing but stare at the constantly breaking waves. Time seemed to stop and yet pass by quickly.  At the end of my walks was the realization I had to return home. The urge to return was complicated because of two paths.

One path was a retracing of my steps back home and probably chores. Often, the chosen path was to go over the dunes, along the schoolyard and cross a four-lane highway and show up at my father’s workplace.  He was a mechanic at a small local shop. “Hi dad, I walked over to see how you are doing.” With a smile, he pulled out a slightly greasy stool, sat me down, and gave me a soda. “How was the hike?”, he would ask. And I would respond with my usual, “good”.  He acted as if he expected me. Not an overly emotional man, but I could tell he was glad I was there.

I am expected in another place someday.  And my heavenly father is expecting me. He may not have a greasy stool and a coke, and He may well ask me, “How was your hike?” There will be a smile on his face because will be glad to see me.

What shall we call Him?  Jesus my expectant greeter.

Jesus the Guide

John 14: 1-7 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me so that you also may be where I am.


On a shelf behind me and just above eye level is a book that haunts me, “Fifty Places to Fly Fish Before You Die.” Each place chapter includes stunning photography of grand beauty and always includes a fly fisherman living the dream.  Once and a while I take it down and read about the grandeur of each place. I fantasize for a moment or two. I envision the availability of hungry fish almost begging me to cast a piece of feather and fur in their area. Why does it haunt me?  Fifty places are just too much. Each page has a drag on my soul, knowing “It can’t be done.” Fifty places are impossible. It is a promise without hope. And for some, heaven is much like my fishing book.

All the visions, and wishes, are accompanied by feelings of unattainability and it silently haunts us. We want to go but the price is too high.  Today, I am well assured that this place called heaven is more wonderful and sweeter than any stream in Alaska.  My Jesus has promised me.  He gives me the opportunity.  He provides the path.  So just below my shelf with all my fishing books, at my eye level is a better book.  A book that brings hope and promise. A book that brings calming joy, for it tells of a single destination of peace.

What shall we call Him? Jesus the guide.

I need “IT”

Micah 7:18 “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.”


We all have been there.  Thinking we have our lives in control and then something never even conceived in our worst nightmare happens.  And we fall on our faces in grief and regret. We come to a place where all the fixing and repairing will not work. The only solution is mercy.

I have been there. I have experienced it.  I have panted for it.  I have never deserved it.  My own weakness, foolishness, pride, personal independence, and simple rebellion have all been efforts to run away from it.  Mercy is the “IT” of my life. My life has tasted the power of God to forgive. “IT” is only when we get away from ourselves and we find God. Mercy is the only solution and path to peace, wisdom, completeness, delight, joy, and victory.


Lord, as my day begins, I resign my own stubbornness to simply accept your mercy.

Grace and Mercy

Ephesians 2:4-5 “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”


I grew up in the shadow of a military training base. My Boy Scout leader was a drill instructor.  Many of the adults in the periphery of my life were in the military. My father was in the Naval Reserve and wore his Senior Chief uniform proudly. He tried to keep my brothers and sister shipshape.  Everything had its place, and everything should be in that place. To his dismay, it was seldom as he would expect. I grew up with absolute expectations of proper behavior and most often came up short of my father’s spit and polish.

I have spent years living and breathing in the world of expectations of other people. I lived in constant threat of disappointment to the socially acceptable norm.  My ingrained nature is one of trying to live up to someone else’s imposed expectation.  I failed a lot. Trying as I might, I could not be what the world expected because their expectations never included mercy.

I have found a new life. Now I live in mercy. I have experienced it.  I have cultivated it.  I have a great need for it. I cannot exist without it. And when it becomes a part of me, my life finds truth, purity, holiness, peace, wisdom, completeness, delight, joy, and victory. My years of living in this great mercy cause me to show mercy.


Lord, remind me again and again that in your mercy I need to show mercy.



Colossians 2:13-14 “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”


The worst thing Imperial Rome could do to punish anyone was to nail him to a wooden cross. Hour after hour of extreme pain would be the far beyond the limit of cruel and inhuman punishment. So why, in the grand plan of God did Jesus have to endure it? It is an ugly picture of man’s worst.  Jesus on the cross, why? Why did God’s perfect plan include a crown of thorns? Why would a blameless and perfectly loving person have to die?

That body slain for things He had not done was for a reason. It was for me!  It was so I can have my own personal shortcomings and willful disobediences separated from me.  All that would weigh me down and slow me are rolled away. It is only at the cross that I can see the light of forgiveness and assurance.


Lord, I am no longer living in my willful disobedience because I am living in you.  I thank you and release my past for the best future.


Hope and Assurance

Titus 3:4-7 “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”


I know well that time drips by at a singular and regular pace.  Yet my perception of time changes from moment to moment. April has been a month of seemingly long duration punctuated with bursts of insane headlong manic. All the while, I have steadied myself with a revelation of the importance of assurance in my life.  How anyone can survive the ebbs and flows of life without assurance in something more baffles me. For me, I must be well-grounded in the Word of God, accept God’s promises, and walk in the light as He is in the light.  Not because of anything I have done or even deserve.  I live in the assurance of God loving me. God dwelling within me, His very presence, and the absolute knowledge of whom I belong, are what sustain me. Together are two hopes, salvation and the assurance with comes with it.


Lord, please remind me again in my hectic sameness to focus on you.  Only You can keep me moment by moment.

Even So Come!


Isaiah 45:21d-22 “There is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”


Often, I do not perceive any urgency in the Church.  Much like the religious hierarchy of the time of Jesus, there was little unction to bring others into the faith of God.  Today, social issues seem to outweigh the ethical mandate of the Bible. There should be a visceral and palpable feeling of NOW.  Why is there no panic in the church to provide to the world the only answer to every question, God? The restoration of faith in God’s solution is the solution to the ills which befall our world. God is going to return.  Is the lack of urgency because we worry He will not come and judge soon or simply because we do not think we can make a difference? Nevertheless, I will continue, to move, to write, to tell.  Even so, Lord Jesus come.


Dear Lord, renew a sense of urgency in my daily life.  Help me to see you are the only answer.

Trust Not Adjust

Colossians 3:2-3 “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that on earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”


The world has drilled into our minds from early childhood a need for conformity. There is a “norm” to which we must conform. Our culture tells us that success and happiness depend upon how well we adjust to it.  And once we have God in our lives, this religious experience can become an add-on.

We must recognize one of the great problems in our modern Christianity: Those who come to Christ probably have their minds made up that to stay sane they must remain “adjusted” to the society around them.  We will add Jesus to our lives to the edge of our culture, but not an inch over. 

But the world does not have any idea where it is going.  Our society has never found its highest and best.  It is a life groping in the darkness dragging Jesus along the way.  All the while we are filled with puzzlement, fear, and frustration.

Thankfully, it was to this kind of world Jesus came. He died for its sin and now lives for the salvation of all who will trust and not adjust.