Philippians 4:19 And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Let us start at the beginning, that's a very good place to start. :-) God has His hand on His children, He tells us that in the Bible. He provides for us in everything, even when we can't obviously tell what's going on. God had His hand on this day long before we knew we would need it and in the end you may not think what happened is so big of a deal, but in the dark of night, in the middle of nowhere with 4 children, it seems like a pretty big thing, especially when it's not even 10F outside and the breeze is blowing softly bringing the temperature seeming lower still. But that's the end and I promised to start at the very beginning.
The beginning is when Mike was looking at the roster of things planned by the naturalists club a month before the hike. He saw that on February 9th there was a Hawk and Owl hike. He had taken our three oldest children and the child of a friend on an owl hike in November and they really enjoyed it, so the idea of going on a HAWK and owl hike seemed like a great idea. It was to be a day long affair and he thought it'd be a great idea that not just we go, but that we bring it to the attention of our homeschool group and invite others to come with us. So, I mentioned it to our homeschool group and one family decided to join us. Looking back, this was God's hand guiding. This other family coming with us was instrumental in a peaceful end to the day.
On February 9th in the morning we left to go to a small little one-horse town that was quite a piece from where we live. We drove for nearly an hour to get there in the dead of winter. The January thaw was over, well over and the cold had come back with force. We dressed the kids in snow suits, all of them because we knew that we were going to be outside a lot that day. It was a good thing, they really needed the layers. We packed a lunch and a LOT of snacks, God's hand was here too. I packed WAY more than I thought we'd actually need. The plan was to be back before dinner, we had even prepared what we could for dinner in the morning so that when we got back it'd be a quick fix. But you know what they say about "best laid plans". Let me refresh your memory if you've forgotten or if perhaps you haven't heard. It comes from a poem written by Robert Burns in 1785 (I looked to be sure).
"But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy."
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy."
Burns was right, they often go awry. God has plans for us, to learn, to grow, for His purpose and glory and sometimes, maybe always, to remind us that He is in control and no matter our intentions that He has His hand on us always.
We arrived at Tim Hortons (a doughnut and coffee shop for those of you not familiar) and sat and waited, and waited and waited....... and waited for everyone to arrive for the hike. The children (especially the girls) were getting very anxious to get going and to be honest, so was I. Waiting in the van is not my idea of a good time. We listened to the Piano Guys CD all the way through while we were waiting. :-) Finally, we got going. We had not expected the turn out that turned out. There were 18 cars of people! Yes, you read that right 18 cars. Now mind you, not ALL the cars had multiple people in them, some had only one, but there was a good deal of people. As the day progressed the numbers dwindled as would be expected. We expected to be among the dwindling people, but alas, it did NOT turn out that way. The family from our homeschool group that came also expected to be among the dwindling numbers but praise be to God, they weren't either. Here is another example of God's hand on that day.
If you're still with me you're probably wondering, "Didn't you take any pictures?!". Yes, we did and so we shall begin with the photos and the official start of the Hawk and Owl Hike.
This tree is where our "hike" began. Now, to call it a hike is really not quite accurate. A hike implies that we did a lot of walking, trudging, ambling, making progress in a particular direction by propelling ourselves physically through exertion. This was not the case. The truth is, the van did most of the work, most of what we worked was our patience. Now, you may also wonder what the significance of this particular tree is. That's a fair question. Now, in and of itself, bare and cold, sleeping for the winter, it seems like a rather insignificant tree. It's large and I'm sure in it's full glory, come spring, it is a sight to behold, however, there is a reason that the Hawk and Owl Hike happens in winter. The reason is that there are no leaves on the trees. This is important because birds like to reside in trees and if the trees are sporting the latest fashion in spring leaves it is MUCH harder if not impossible to see the birds. You may see the speck in the top of the tree, if you do (and you'll really need to take my word for it here), that speck is really a Rough Legged Hawk (dark morph). The length of my zoom is a mere 300mm, that's not NEARLY enough to get a good look at this hawk, if you'd like to see what it looks like closer up than this, just look here, there's a picture and a little more about it. That wasn't the only thing we saw in this location, we also saw these things. :-)
I'm not sure what the name of this little beauty was, but he did a LOT to entertain small children.
These are four of the 5 small children he entertained. In the green is Caleigh, in the pink on the far right is Rora, the other two belong to the other homeschool family from our group that came. Aurora and Daniella are the oldest, but they are all under 10. Eva isn't in this picture, she was next to me, she didn't want to play in the snow yet.
This is what the field on the other side of the road from the huge tree with the hawk in it looked like, beautiful 'eh? (We are in Canada after all, the "Great White North".)
This is a Red Tailed Hawk. This is where you can find out more about these graceful predators. We saw MANY of these while we were out.
We continued on our LONG journey shortly after this. While in the van and driving around we saw many more birds, some we got pictures of, some didn't sit still long enough to be photographed and others were too far away to get any meaningful pictures of. Let us continue.
In the branches of this tree, I'm not sure how well you can even see them when you click on the picture to blow it up, but these birds are Snow Bungings. This is more about them and a good picture of one. We saw plenty of these and why not, there was plenty of snow!
Now, something I should have mentioned before this is that way back at that first picture I had a chance to talk to Claudia, the other homeschool mom there and she had said that at that point, their plan was to leave after several hours, they were planning on leaving before us and we were planning on being home before dinner. This is where we come back to Burns and "best laid plans of mice and men" and Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.".
Back to the pictures.
Now, we had been told that there was a possibility of seeing Bald Eagles on our trip. I had never seen one in person that wasn't in a zoo, Sam and Mike had and this was my chance! We didn't get around to seeing the eagles until after 1. We were on Lake Erie (we live on Lake Ontario), there is a power plant (called Hydro Plants up here) on the lake and they take in the water from the lake to cool off the machines and they pump out warm water into the lake. Where the warm water goes into the lake it doesn't freeze so this is a great place for eagles and other birds of prey who like to eat fish. Lake Erie freezes over pretty quickly, compared to the other great lakes it's smallish in comparison. Knowing these things, it was the perfect place to head to in search of the elusive Bald Eagle.
These were the first two we saw. They are juveniles. Bald Eagles, until they mature, don't have the white heads. That doesn't happen until they are about 5 years old. You can find out more about them here. Now, I said these were the FIRST ones we saw, here are some more.
The two in the tree are the same two from above, but there are two more flying very near them. It is breathtaking and awe inspiring to watch eagles fly. These birds can reach sizes of 35"-37" and wing spans of 72"-90"! They can fly at altitudes of 10,000 ft and gain speeds of up to 35mph! Despite their size they only weigh 10-14lbs! Their bones are hollow and THAT ladies and gentlemen is how they attain flight. God DESIGNED them that way. Did you know that bald eagles can also swim? It's true! Honest! These are truly amazing birds. Want to see more!?
This is one of three more juvenile eagles we saw around the corner in some trees looking over the lake. They never gook off the whole time we were there. I know they knew we were there, there were plenty of us, but they weren't concerned in the least. All told we saw about 10 eagles in this area. 2 mature ones, 1 that was nearly mature and about 7 immature ones. THAT is a LOT of eagles!! Grandpa, I wish you could have been with us to see them.
Here is a picture of Lake Erie very near the power plant. You can see the ice out there and the bluer water that isn't frozen due to the warm water the plant is pumping out. We stayed here quite a long time and then moved on. I believe it was after 2 when we finally got going. Up to this point there had been no bathroom break. Somehow, we never ended up with any peed children, in and of itself, with only ONE bathroom break from the time we left home at 10am that morning, no one EVER peed themselves. For anyone with children you know that is no small feat. However, Caleigh was getting VERY antsy at this point. She had to go to the bathroom and she had to go BAD! We drove a bit and came to a small diner, but alas, their plumbing was frozen and so off we went in search of another toilet.
We drove and drove and drove and I'm sure that she thought we had been driving for hours. She got more and more anxious and despite our constant reassurance that we were indeed heading for somewhere and that relief was in sight, she didn't believe us and as time went on she got more and more frustrated and her bladder was darn near bursting. Finally, we came into a little one-horse town (their horse was smaller than the one where we started our trip!) and everyone piled into the tiny little cafe and after 15 or 20 mins everyone had had a chance to relieve themselves for the one and only time on the trip. We weren't warned it'd be the one and only time, but with one possible exception that little tidbit of information is of more consequence to ladies as opposed to men. :-)
Onward we go! We drove and drove and drove about 4km I'm told until we arrived at another point on Lake Erie where we saw a VERY rare sight for this part of the world. It's called a Greater White-Fronted Goose. I'll show you a picture and then tell you about WHY this is so rare.
Here is a picture of the ones we saw. This is why they are so rare! It was a treat to see them. It really was. The kids didn't really understand why these geese were such a big deal, but we did (later, when we looked them up).
They weren't the only things we saw there though! Have a look at all the other birds we saw with them on the lake!
Canadian Geese, not really a big deal here in Canada, however, they were there in droves!!
We also saw Snow Geese (didn't get pictures of them though), Buffleheads (ducks with amazing heads) and Redheads (ducks with red heads, go figure).
If you look closely (blow up the photos) you should be able to see Redheads in both of these photos. There are Buffleheads in some pictures too, but they kept diving and were hard to take pictures of.
We were here for a while and then took off with the intention of going to Ruthven to look at feeder birds. It was after 4pm at this point, we should have been heading home by now, but as I said before, things weren't going according to plan. Claudia and her family had been planning on heading home before this point too, but they were flying by the seats of their pants at this point and decided to stick around for a while. Again, here is God's hand on our day.
Ruthven was about 15km away from where we were, it was cold and after about 15 minutes of driving we all stopped (mostly because the guy who was in the lead vehicle stopped and unless we wanted to crash into him, common sense dictated we had to stop too). He got out of his car and went from one car to another and explained that it was getting late and we were skipping Ruthven. Instead we were heading straight to the area where we were supposed to see/hear the owls. It was a conservation area in the middle of nowhere (not sure the town was actually called Nowhere, but it might have been) and just follow him. Now, our PLAN was to leave and go home after Ruthven. The day was already getting MUCH later than planned, we should have been on our way home well before this, BUT, first, we had NO idea where we were, we don't have GPS and we thought that if we were headed there now, we would get there sooner and get to see/hear owls before they had planned. Sam had been begging and pleading (quite literally) to stay and see the owls and we had tried reasoning with him that the girls had been being so good and had already had a long day and needed to go home, but since we were skipping Ruthven and we had no idea how to get back to the highway to go home (that honestly was the clincher for us) we decided to continue on and so did Claudia and her family. (Do I really need to say that God had His hand here too?)
Off we go, now our assumption that we were just going to go to the conservation area and traipse around before sunset was naive at best. We spent the next 45 minutes driving around aimlessly wasting time until it was getting close to sunset. I'm not sure what the name of the conservation area was that we ended up at, but here is where things start building to the climax.
Now, like I said, we were in the middle of nowhere. We had recently (read the day before) gotten 14"+ of snow. It was cold and there was the slightest breeze sometimes. We all pulled alongside the road when we got there. I don't think there were 18 cars with us anymore, maybe just more than half of that. When we pulled along side of the road with the 14"+ of snow on the ground, we had no idea that there was a ditch there. I stepped out of the passenger side of the van and sank up to my thighs in snow. I told Mike the kids had to get out of his side because they'd be chest deep in snow otherwise. They all got out that side and at the time, none of us realized just how close Mike had pulled up to the car in front of us and how close to the ditch we were.
We all piled out of the van, grabbed the cameras on the chance we'd see some owls and it's after 5pm now. We gathered around the guy running the whole thing and he told us the plan. We were going to follow him down the path and "hopefully" between two ponds that were "hopefully" frozen over enough that if we didn't get "quite" between them (read, if we walked onto one accidentally) that they would still hold our weight and we wouldn't fall through. There was so much snow on the ground that there was really no way to KNOW where the ponds were exactly. I'm no lightweight and even if I was, there were MANY other adults there and several children and out as far as we were, the idea of POSSIBLY falling through the ice concerned me more than a little.
Now, for those of you who don't know me, I'm not fond of the cold or snow. I only had on jeans and my hiking boots and there was no path cleared through the 14"+ of snow. The temperature was still dropping, the sun was setting and I was following someone who "hoped" he knew the way between the "hopefully" completely frozen ponds about 500m (was his guess, I think it was further) down a path, down a hill, between (hopefully) some ponds and down by a wooded area to "hopefully" hear some owls and "hopefully" see some.
My theory is that God made snow, especially untouched snow, beautiful so that as you're freezing to death you can appreciate the beauty of the masterpiece. Snow is an amazing thing. I'm sure you know that no two snowflakes are alike and there were more snowflakes than we could count to be seen (and not seen). It was breathtaking how beautiful it was, especially as the sun set.
Photos can not even do justice to the beauty there as the sun went down below the horizon. The colors were beyond anything that can be captured on film and it ALMOST (not quite) made you forget that you couldn't feel your toes anymore.
The "plan" was to keep everyone as quiet as possible so we could hear any owls that might be around. It really was amazing how quiet the kids stayed. I was impressed to say the least. Even little Eva stayed very quiet. However, it was cold and getting colder. It was also getting later and darker, which is not to be unexpected when the sun goes down (obvious warning by the Lord above that it will be dark soon) and I was becoming more impatient than the kids were. We hadn't eaten an actual meal since before noon and everyone was getting tired of Nutrigrain bars. I was also concerned that it was going to be hard in the blanket of complete darkness on a very cold night with no moon and no artificial lights around that it would be hard to find out way back to the van. I was already concerned after traveling down to where we ended up and hearing cracking ice beneath my feet, now it is very possible it was only frozen puddles we were walking over that was making those sounds, but still, cracking ice sounds are cracking ice sounds and I was getting more and more anxious and told Mike I was ready to go back to the van. Within 20 minutes we were on our way back to the van and in the 10ish minutes it took to get there the sun set completely and it was dark, VERY dark. The kids (the girls) were getting worried because it was so dark and they were finally spent and cold and wanted to go home. We finally got to the van and they piled in. I didn't want to walk through thigh deep snow and then try and climb back into the van, so Mike said he'd pull the van out and then I could get in. Claudia and her family hadn't yet come back and neither had anyone else that we saw. We were alone on the road, in the dark. I didn't get in the van and the tired girls were VERY concerned that Mike was leaving me there. He and Sam tried to reason with them and tell them what was going on, but hysteria was already setting in and he had only just started the van. I moved away from the van so he could pull out, but instead of pulling out, the van sank a little bit into the ditch and the harder he tried to get out the further in it sank. The hysterical girls became even more so at this point. They were scared, Sam was "concerned" and Mike and I were a little worried, although we tried not to show it for the kids sake. Praying started in hard then and there.
Now let me take a moment of pause here to talk about perception. Life is nothing if not all about perception. The perception of the girls was that life as they knew it was over. The world was coming to an end and there was nothing that could be done to stop it. It was dark and cold and scary and the van was sinking into a pit and despair was enveloping them at a rate faster than the speed of light. Sam's perception was being impacted by several things. First, the girls had long since past "concerned" and fast tracked to hysteria and utter despair. Mike was irritated and obviously trying to work on crowd control in a way that many men do after a long day (well, many people, let's face it, it's not a trait that only men have) and Mom was trying to calm everyone down like moms will do and let's face it, just because Mom says it's okay doesn't mean anything, she is always saying stuff like that, even when downright scary things are happening! He was obviously worried but trying to be brave and nonchalant about the whole thing.
Now growing up I had perceptions too. Still do. I perceived needles that the doctor's had to be about a foot long and square. It didn't make it true and 30+ years later they haven't really shrunk all that much.
What we perceive is very much what we consider reality. Some people live in their reality that if they are good enough that they will go to heaven. That if they were baptized as children they will go to heaven or maybe even if their parents were Christians then they will go to heaven. After all, they pray to God sometimes. They believe that there is a "God". Some people believe that no matter what "religion" you practice it doesn't matter, after all, all roads lead to God, right? I'm sorry to say that none of these things are true, they are simply all "perceived". All religions do NOT lead to God and NOTHING, no matter how good you think you are, no matter how you were raised or how much praying you do is ever going to matter. You are doomed to eternity in Hell. It sounds harsh, but it's true. Titus 3:5 tells us "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us. By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit." The Bible tells us with no remorse that our works, no matter how good they are, won't save us. We are also told "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 6:23. Psalm 9:17 tells us "The wicked shall be turned into hell and all the nations that forget God." We can also pray all we want, but NO prayer we pray until we pray for forgiveness will be heard. John 9:31 says "Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He will hear him." Isaiah 59:2 "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear."
1 Peter 3:12 "For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." How much more plain does it have to be? You can be as good as you want, you can pray as much as you want, but until you face your sins, repent of them and follow Christ, it does you no good and is all for naught. So, what's stopping you?
I asked the Lord to come into my heart and forgive my sins more than 25 years ago. Through Him I not only have peace and assurance as to what awaits me when I die. No matter what happens to me, no matter what happens around me or in the world, no matter how the government lets the nation to go pot, no matter what happens in the world, I have assurance from the God who created it all that heaven awaits me. Isaiah 41:10 "Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous hand." Hebrews 13:6 "So we may boldly say: "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?"" Isaiah 26:3 "You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts You." Now you may ask, "How can I have that?!" Well, I'll tell you. First, you need to know and accept that you have sinned. You are a perverse creature, no matter how "good" you try and be, it means nothing. Romans 3:23 "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Romans 6:23 tells us "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." There is hope! Romans 5:8 says "But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sins. He did what we can never do, could never do. No matter how good we are, no matter how many charities we give to, no matter how we sacrifice or how good we try and be it will NEVER be enough. Jesus did what had to be done. So, what do you do? Romans 10:9 tells us "That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved." Romans 10:13 "For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." So now what? Romans 5:1 "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 8:1 "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." But the promises don't stop there! Romans 8:38-39 "For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor principalities nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord." Isn't that wonderful?! Peace, perfect peace.
So, while the girl's world was coming to an end and the van was sinking ever further into a ditch in the dark of the night in the middle of nowhere and all hope was seemingly lost, God had had His hand on this situation from the beginning and was about to answer our prayers, we need only to trust Him.
At this moment Claudia and her family came back. They saw that there was a problem and offered to help. These people who had planned on leaving a couple of hours after the trip began and had stuck it out all day for some reason (honestly, we know the reason, don't we?) were coming back to leave. Claudia helped me round up the kids and we all went to their van, she gave the girls treats and we were able to sit snug and warm in their van while her dear husband Dave helped Mike. They pushed on the van and revved the engine and it kept going in the wrong direction. There was honestly a point at which it was at such an angle I really thought it would roll over sideways and would require the use of a tow truck to remove it. I prayed and prayed for God's intervention and had peace about the situation. We really couldn't afford a tow truck, besides, we had NO idea where we were, how long would it take to get the tow truck there anyway? God had a plan though and He would show His hand and very soon. Despite Mike and Dave's attempts to extricate the van from it's place of stuckness (spell check says that's not a word), right at that very moment 3 young, strong men came out of the woods at the same time and offered to help. They put their cameras in their car and got down in the deep snow in the ditch and pushed with everything they had in them. Dave directed Mike from the front so he wouldn't hit the car VERY close to the nose of the van, Mike put the van in 2nd gear and those three men pushed and pushed and within several minutes our precariously perched van was free and clear of danger (albeit a little more dented for the wear). God's goodness and grace didn't stop there though! Like I said, we were in the middle of nowhere and had NO idea how to get back to the highway. Claudia and her husband though had GPS and we followed them, in the dark of the night, through the twisting, winding roads of the middle of nowhere back to the highway and civilization as we know it. YA!!!! God is gracious, God is good. God was watching out for us even before the trip started.
Mike and I have an agreement now, the next time there's a hike like this, the girls and I are staying home and he and Sam are more than welcome to go and hike to their heart's content in the cold and snow. We also agree on something else, that day would have been stressful, painful and unpleasant if not downright freaky if not for the peace that passes all understanding. We knew then that God had His hand on us and that no matter how it turned out, He had a plan for it whether we saw it or not.
Thank you for suffering through all the reading and the serious lack of photos. If you take nothing else from this ordeal take this, no matter what happens in life, how bad it seems, how ultimately hopeless the situation is perceived to be, God is there and if you believe in Him and are saved, there is NOTHING that you can't get through with peace, nothing. Did you know stress is the root of everything that doctor's can't explain? Don't have any good reason for your depression, it's stress. Your hair is falling out, stress. Live on Tums? It's stress! Know the cure for all stress everywhere, all the time, no matter what? Salvation and faith in God. It is the ONLY peace that is lasting peace.
And with that I leave you, until next time. God bless you and keep you until we meet again.