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What’s Your Yellowstone?

I’ve always wanted to go to Yellowstone. There’s an allure to the American West (or maybe it’s just all those episodes of Gunsmoke and Bonanza I watched as a kid). It’s one of those trips I figured I would get around to someday. But when I read 2022 was the park’s 150th Anniversary, I figured I should be part of that glorious celebration.

The trip was everything I’d dreamed of and more. I spent time in Grand Teton National Park as well (breathtaking) and saw elk, moose, buffalo, and coyote. I gazed into colorful, seemingly endless pools and was awed by an array of thermal features I didn’t even know existed. I saw canyons and waterfalls and lakes. The beauty was so vast I felt I couldn’t open my eyes wide enough to see it all.

Before I left, I was visiting with my 90-year-old neighbor.  As we sat on her porch and I told her about my upcoming trip, she said wistfully, “I always wanted to go to Yellowstone.” She passed away a month later.

Time goes fast, my friends. One day you’re 30 thinking you have forever and the next you’re 90 sitting on your front porch watching the hummingbirds. We always think we have more time.

I was texting photos back from the Biltmore House (celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted. If you don’t know who that is, find out.)  One of the young people on the thread replied, “I’ve always wanted to go to the Biltmore House.” She lives 3.5 hours from there. I replied, “Girl, get in your car and go!” She said she was too anxious to go by herself. (Did I mention I went to Yellowstone solo?)  Nothing against travelling with others, but you can’t wait for other people to bring you your life. And the best way to overcome being anxious?  Do the thing that makes you anxious!  Almost everything makes us nervous the first time we do it. Life was meant to be lived! If you avoid every negative emotion, your world will be tiny indeed. (Young adults report rates of anxiety almost double that of older adults. Guess those “safe spaces” weren’t such a great idea.) Avoiding things that are hard doesn’t make you strong, it makes you weaker.

What’s your Yellowstone? What is that thing you always assume you will get around to doing? (And I’m not talking about cleaning out the garage.) What are your dreams? Got a book inside you? A sermon? Want to swim with dolphins? Feel the spray from Niagara Falls? Go on safari? Sky dive? Have you traded your dreams for Netflix and TikTok? Gotten distracted from actually living? I was out as the sun rose in Yellowstone and was lucky enough to see a herd of elk slowly moving across a river surrounded by a cloud of golden steam. It was a gift I’ll remember the rest of my days. Part of my amazement was created by all the mornings I saw no wildlife. That made me appreciate what a gift it was. Watching a video of elk? Please.

We were not built to cower in front of screens, to shelter from the least uncomfortable emotion. We were built to climb mountains, to cross oceans, to have adventures. If you don’t believe me, go have one and see if it reminds you of who you are.

Some questions to help you find your Yellowstone:

  •  If you only had six months to live, what would you do?
  •  What are you waiting for someone else to do? Why are you waiting on them? Maybe they’re waiting on you.
  • Are the excuses you’re making legit?  If you’re anxious, what are you afraid is going to happen? Is that really likely? Is it money? Lots of adventures are free.
  • How many more healthy years do you think you have?  I wanted to go to Yellowstone while I could still hike. The day will come when I can’t. And no matter what you think that day will come for you too.
  • How much of your time is spent watching other people live their lives?  Social media, television, etc. You won’t find yourself there.

I know you have dreams; I just don’t know what they are. I can promise you this, however. If YOU don’t know what they are, you’re letting the great opportunity of this life slip away.  You’ll be on your porch at 90 wistfully thinking of the adventures you didn’t have.

R.I.P Mrs. Elmo Lou Phillips. Thank you for reminding us how fast life goes. My short time with you was a joy.

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