On the Next Day of Winter…

IMG_0143 edit.jpgIn some places in the country, I’m seeing pictures of blossoming peach orchards, daffodils and greening grass.  On the first day of spring here, it snowed in the morning—and then a bitter wind spent the rest of the day kicking all that snow up into the air in great billowing clouds, forcing us to plow the driveway due to drifting.  If you live here, too, you’re not surprised or alarmed.  It’s a typical Minnesota weather move.

I made the mistake of announcing that it was the first day of spring to my children.  I meant it tongue in cheek, of course, but later in the day, they informed me that they had packed up all the ski boots and put them away in the basement.  “Whatever for?” I inquired in surprise, because cross country skiing has been something they’ve really enjoyed as recently as the day before.  “Because you said it was spring now, Mom!”  Oops.  So we had a little educational session on equinoxes and lengths of days, but they just looked at me, puzzled, as if to say, “Mom, everyone knows that spring is a temperature, not a day on the calendar.”

I was going to do a post entitled “First Day of Spring”, featuring pussy willows, which appeared during one fleeting warm spell a couple weeks ago.  But when I finally got out to take the pictures, what I got instead was this ironic juxtaposition of seasons.  I may have been taking pictures of pussy willows, but what it really felt like was just the next day of winter.IMG_0157 edit.jpgMuch as we’d sometimes like it to be, spring just isn’t a day on the calendar for us.  It’s no short, sweet announcement.  Instead, it’s a slow thing, that creeps up, teases, eludes.  But still, watching spring unfold, painfully slow but sure, gives me hope—which is something we all need a little bit more of right now.

All over the world, people are facing lockdowns, quarantines, alarming numbers of the ill and the dead mounting, economies teetering in uncertainty.  Everyone’s ready for it to be over with, but at this point it still looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better.  We cling to the hope that things are going to ease up eventually, but when?  People keep guessing, but the truth is, nobody really knows.  Watching for the end of this thing involves no set date on a calendar, much as we’d like it to.  It’s a whole lot more like living through March in Minnesota: when it feels like it should be the end of a long winter, but sometimes we just keep getting more snowstorms instead.IMG_0140 edit.jpg What we do know, however, is that winter always does end, and spring always does come, because the God who put the seasons into motion has promised that they will remain in steady motion as long as the earth shall endure.

“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22)

Sometimes it’s a little sooner, sometimes it’s a little later, but nobody ever wonders if.  Just when.  And the same God who keeps His promise to sustain the rhythm of seasons, has also given us these promises:

“…And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)IMG_0167 edit.jpgRemember: no matter how long this current trouble lasts, He is still in control and present in all these things.  Watch for Him at work, and you will surely see Him. 

Not when the trouble’s gone, but right there in the midst of the turmoil—

like the pussy willows budding resilient in the falling snow…

like the little ducks bravely coming back to paddle along the melting edges of icy creeks…

like the two patient white lumps posted on our frozen lake, splendid swans trumpeting in triumph as they patiently await the thaw.

The New and the Old

IMG_7295 editI always enjoy spending the first few weeks of a new year reflecting back on the old.  I read through the my journals and scroll through the pictures I took, reminding myself of what I’ve learned and experienced over those 365 days.  I note the highlights and the lowlights, what was the same and what was different, what was new and what was old—and this is what I found for 2019:

There were wonderful old things—

Old friends to catch up with…

The faithful, breathtaking repetition of seasons…

Old favorite vacation spots from our childhoods, revisited with our own children…

Time-worn traditions and celebrations honored once again…IMG_7921 editAnd not-so-exciting old things—

The same old piles of dirty dishes every day…

Bigger quantities of the same old cycle of laundry: wash, dry, fold, put away, repeat…

Vehicles aging, old parts needing replaced…

Old habits struggling to be broken…

But in the midst of all the old, the good and the bad, His mercies were new.  Fresh, marvelous and breathtaking every day, breathing life and purpose and wonder into the sameness and drudgery of life.img_3173 editThere were also wonderful new things—

New faces to become friends with…

New recipes tried, new books read…

New ways I was challenged and uplifted spiritually…

A new baby to carry, birth and nurture…IMG_4074 editAnd not so fun new things—

New goodbyes to be said this side of heaven…

New-to-me levels of sickness and health issues, and need for help as I went through them…

New things to forgive and be forgiven for.

But in the midst of all this, the good and the bad, His mercies were old.  Not old and worn out, but old and timeless and sure.  Unchanging, firm, and the same, an untold comfort in the midst of change and uncertainty.IMG_4063 editAnd now I’m three weeks into another new year,

days adding to days without stopping to wait while I reflect,

already colored by the un-calculated quantities of baby spit up on my shirt, giant snow storms and unexpected events.

And I’m here to say that I’m already discovering that the same old story from last year is on repeat in the new:  His mercies are new every morning and great is His faithfulness.  May you discover the same, in abundance, in the upcoming year!IMG_3148But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:  The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,“therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:21-24)

P.S. Featured here are a few odd pictures that I never got around to using from 2019!  Also, I know I’ve been absent from this space for awhile, but I’ve had good reason in the form of one tiny adorable little man who arrived to change the landscape of our family forever in October.  To those of you who have inquired with such kind interest as to the future state of this blog:  Thank you for your patience as I’ve taken a long break from here to focus fully on adjusting to life as a family of six.  Lord willing, I do hope to get back to more writing and photography as this new season permits!  Meanwhile, you’ll find me taking baby portraits and writing in his baby book about first smiles and that time he slept eight hours….

 

Hello, I’m Back!

IMG_6212 editWell, hello there!  If you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been absent from here for a while.  Not by plan; just, as it sometimes goes, by circumstances of life.  Quite frankly, I’ve been behind ever since the sickness I alluded to in my last post, full recovery was slow because of also being pregnant, and then we decided to go on a last-minute family trip before baby arrives.  Finding energy or time in the midst of all this for extra things like writing and photography has been a challenge.

But going on a trip to a different place has a way of pushing the reset button.  It was an obvious and easy shove back into the habit of photography—so many new, different and wonderful things to frame and capture!—not to mention that the simplicity of life in a one-room cabin with only a small camp stove and a fire for cooking has a way of slowing me down enough so I can think again.  I’m looking forward to sharing with you the photos and thoughts that came of this time away, but editing and writing takes time.  So in the meantime, I thought I’d pop in with a few last-minute images of summer before fall overtakes us completely, and so you wouldn’t think I fell completely off the face of the planet!IMG_6127 edit.jpgIMG_6513 edit.jpgIMG_6146 edit.jpgIMG_6598 edit.jpgIMG_6163 edit.jpgIMG_6209 edit.jpgIMG_6171 edit.jpgIMG_6605 edit.jpgI’ll look forward to meeting you back here in a few days with a little virtual glimpse of some South Dakota beauty!

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Forget Not His Benefits

IMG_5257 editSometimes, when you’re sick in bed, watching the world go by without you outside your window, it’s good to do something other than focus on how sore your throat happens to be.  Or maybe, for you, it’s more like sick in heart and focusing on how deep your hurts happen to be.  Either way, they can end up feeling pretty similar: discouraging.

I’ve found myself in both shoes at various times in my life, but for the past couple weeks, it happened to be in the physical realm, when my body decided to ignore all the items on my to-do list and important things I had on my schedule and sent me to bed instead with barely a voice to ask for a drink of water.  This was not in the plans, not to mention how many well-laid plans it managed to throw awry.

These are the times, I’ve found, when it’s time for a good dose of Psalm 103 right along with all the Vitamin C:

“Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (vs. 2)

It’s called turning my focus from all the things I’m missing out on to the gifts I have been given, which are many but too easily forgotten in the trouble of the moment.  Sometimes I think that’s one of the main reasons I even take pictures: so I can look at them later, remember, and be thankful.  That’s also one of the main reasons I keep a journal.  I think everyone should have some tangible way of remembering the little and big things God has given them, even if it’s just a running list on the counter.  Because we are oh, so prone to forget, but what incredible healing and uplifting there can be in the remembering!

So from my sick chair one afternoon, I scrolled through my photo files for the months of June and July, and remembered some of His benefits.

I remembered how we held our breath, waiting for the strawberry blossoms to turn to tiny nuggets of red sweetness in the canopy of the field grasses,

and how the butterflies danced amidst the short-lived lilacs, then moved to the field flowers.IMG_5210 edit.jpgIMG_5199 edit.jpg IMG_5768 editIMG_5809 editI remembered exhilarating cannonballs into cold lake water on a sultry day (or timid tiptoes in, as the personality went),

how we welcomed the first clouds of dragonflies zooming in to bring welcome relief from too many mosquitoes,

that day we swam with turtles.IMG_5726 editIMG_5702 editIMG_5887 editI remembered the spotted fawns trailing their mamas, stopping to stare wide-eyed at us from the edges of the forest,

watching from a respectful distance as a brave mama turtle left her eggs to the fates of nature,

that morning we got fresh doughnuts from a bakery and stopped to watch goose families paddling down a winding green river.IMG_5360 editIMG_5339 editIMG_5279 edit.jpgI remembered how the wild roses bent along the lake edge to almost touch the lapping waves,

the day I sat on a lake shore in a gentle rain of mayflies and thought how wonderful it was to be covered in bugs that didn’t bite you,

the day I and a three-year-old chased a brown-eyed cottontail through the field grass.IMG_5751 edit.jpgIMG_5559 edit.jpgIMG_5676 editI remembered the fish we saw, and the fish we caught,

the evening we celebrated our first summer birthday girl,

and waking up in the middle of the night to hear the loons yodeling and see the fireflies dancing outside my window like a thousand elusive stars.IMG_5763 editIMG_5457 edit.jpgIMG_6022 editI remembered eating ice cream in a shop that smelled of vanilla and waffles,

tiny birds carefully held by a small girl with a hole in her smile,

the way dandelions gone to seed look in the sunshine.IMG_5389 edit.jpgIMG_6062 edit.jpgIMG_5271 edit.jpgI remembered climbing among quiet pools and granite boulders along the Bigfork River,

the day we finally found the robin’s nest’,

and watching the full moon rise up over the flower garden.IMG_5851 edit.jpgIMG_6124 editIMG_6118 edit.jpgAnd, as is often the case, it was easy to go on from there and remember the things I didn’t have photographs of, like…

healthy baby kicks in my womb,

soothing tea with honey,

and my husband and dear friends who washed my dishes, cared for my children, and brought me food and medicine while I was down.

And you know what?  I wasn’t healed when I was done.  I was coughing as much as ever.  But in my soul, there had been a healing shift from the mentality of “poor me” to “wow, look at all my blessings”—and sometimes, I think we actually need that kind of healing more.

“Bless the LORD, O my soul; all that is within me, bless His holy name…

He who forgives all your iniquities, and heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the Pit and crowns you with loving devotion and compassion,

who satisfies you with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103: 1, 3-5)

Bog Walking

IMG_5937 editThey are one of those last American frontiers of wilderness, these mysterious places that have triumphantly resisted many a pioneer effort to tame them.  We drive north, and great stretches of land spiked with the craggy silhouettes of stunted spruce and feathery tamarack are all that meet the eye for miles.  From the speed of the car window, it would seem that these trees are the only fauna that manage to monotonously thrive amidst the swamp grasses.  And inaccessible as they are, it can be a misconception difficult to prove otherwise.IMG_5590 editIMG_5624 edit.jpg IMG_5611 edit.jpgIf you’re fortunate enough to traverse a bog walk, however, you will find out that beneath the feathery tamarack branches there are wonderful, amazing plants that thrive in the water-logged, acidic soil, plants that you will see nowhere else but here.  There are strangely beautiful carnivorous plants…IMG_5635 editIMG_5943 editand rare exotic orchids named after legendary reptiles and dainty foot wear.IMG_5600 edit.jpg IMG_5370 editIMG_5923 edit.jpgThere are humps of moss so lush and thick it looks like shag carpet, and delicate grasses that are growing cotton balls.IMG_5617 edit.jpgThere are cranberries, bunchberries and labrador tea.IMG_5591 edit.jpgIMG_5368 editIMG_5650 edit.jpgThere are secret lakes of unknown depth, and pine cones in purple casings.IMG_5779 editIMG_5934 edit.jpgIt’s a whole new world of wonders, where even the more familiar flowers and berries manage to feel exotic if only for their tenacity to survive and thrive here.IMG_5946 edit.jpgIMG_5659 editAnd who knows what else might lie beyond?  The view a state park board walk lends is only a glimpse into this mysterious damp world of peat moss and uncertain footing.  I like the intrigue of this, imagining the rare orchids hidden away in the vast reaches of the bogs, never to be discovered.

I like to think of the Word of God as something like a bog walk into the otherwise unfathomable mysteries of who God is.  A walkway that doesn’t end like the ones in the parks do, but keeps going, on and on and on, as far as you’re willing to travel, with new and wonderful discoveries around every bend.  It’s an invitation to explore, to understand, to fully appreciate who He really is…not just what He might appear to look like when you’re speeding past a church building along the freeway.

We can have many impressions of and ideas about God.  Perhaps they’re based on how you were raised, or the way a certain church-goer you once knew acted.  They might even be based on what you hear at church or what a good Christian friend of yours says or thinks about Him.  But imagining that you understand God based purely on these “drive-by” experiences of life is like me imagining that a bog is completely boring because the only thing that grows there is weird looking pine trees, based purely on the view from my car window.  For all you know, your personal experiences may have given you a faulty view of what God is like.  At best, it’s only a partial view, just the tiniest incomplete glimpse into a God “who does great and unsearchable things, wonders without number” (Job 5:9), who causes the apostle Paul to exclaim: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33)

The only way to find out how beautiful He really is?  To get out of the car or off your seat on the sidelines, so to speak, and find out for yourself.  Don’t go slogging through in the hip waders of a self-made path, either, which can leave you lost and sinking fast into the mire of false ideas.  No, take the board walk He built just with you in mind, the one that is solidly built for sure footing, that skillfully curves along to bring you right to the rarest treasures of His wisdom and knowledge.

Read His Word.  Don’t think of it as something you have to do or should do; think of it as a treasure hunt into mysterious and wonderful places, because that’s what it really is.  There is no other way to truly “know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3)

“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

 

 

Sandhill Cranes

img_1602-1-e1559014041812.jpgWe’ve seen them other years, stopping very briefly on their way to other destinations or merely flying over—but this year, two (and sometimes three) lingered for weeks.  The deep-throated trombone of their voices was an exotic addition to our usual local symphony, putting the normally dominate swan trumpeting to shame, and for awhile, they would even sound off like clockwork around 5 AM every morning.  Who needs an alarm clock, my husband and I would mumble groggily to each other, when you have sandhill cranes in your back yard?

I expected lots of photo opportunities, but there was one thing I hadn’t figured on, and that’s how alert these big birds are.  That was coupled with the fact that they generally feed in the open fields, where there is little cover for a hopeful photographer.  I made a couple noble efforts, but to no avail.  Off they’d flap, every time, noisily warning to the rest of world!  “She may not look like a wolf,” I could imagine them croaking knowingly to each other, “But she may be a wolf in human clothing.”  They weren’t taking any risks when it came to suspicious creeping in their direction.

On one of these attempts I discovered that I wasn’t the only one curious about the newcomers—but this inquisitive deer had a little more luck with close-ups than I did.IMG_4764 edit.jpgIMG_4766 edit.jpgFrustrating as it was to have my designs foiled time after time, I had to begrudgingly admire these giant fowl’s sense of awareness though.  It reminded me of the sobering topic we’ve been studying on Wednesday nights at church, and in particular, this verse:

“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

It would seem that we all could learn a bit from the sandhill cranes, who never seem to let down their guard, who not only see and flee at the first sign of danger but warn everyone around them of it, too.  Sometimes, instead, we’re a bit too much like the pair of twin fawns I encountered the other day (unfortunately without a camera in hand), who naively wandered out into the middle of the road to sniff the tires of my paused car.  “Look, isn’t it pretty?  Isn’t it shiny?  It doesn’t look like those wolves mother is always warning us against.  Surely it won’t hurt to take a closer look!”  All the while ignoring the frantic hoof stomping of their mother from the safety of the ditch, quite oblivious to the fact that I’d just come within inches of running them over and that someday a hunter will not merely sit there admiring their pretty brown eyes.

Hopefully, before it’s too late, they will learn, as the sandhill cranes know, that danger does not always come packaged in sharp teeth and furs, and that it’s better to be wary, listen to the warnings from those around you and do your research of the unknown from a safe distance.

And hopefully, each of us does, too.*

“[Therefore] Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13)

*For more in depth instructions on how to identify and withstand the spiritual enemy I’m alluding to here, see Ephesians 6:10-18, or check out the excellent study guide we’ve been using over here called Spiritual Warfare: Overcoming the Enemy by Kay Arthur and David and BJ Lawson.

One Ordinary Summer Night

IMG_5315 edit 2.jpgAs the coral sun sets in a sea of softly apricot sky, I drive down the familiar bumps and curve of our own driveway after a long day in town.  Three small girls, happily sticky with the residue of free Dumdum suckers from the bank, tumble out of the car and I herd them inside to put on pajamas, brush teeth and crawl into bed.  We kill all the mosquitoes in their room, say prayers together, turn out the lights.  And then, I go back out to unload the groceries, a flat of plants from the greenhouse, and a newly repaired  bicycle that’s ready for a six-year-old to learn to pedal.  It’s late and I’m tired, but suddenly I pause in the midst of my trips up and down the porch steps, because—

There’s a milky half slice of moon in one half of the sky, a nearer-than-usual planet blinking like a solitaire diamond in the other.

The barn roof and my bridal wreath spirea in full bloom are glowing pure white in the gathering darkness.

The heady fragrance of lilac is on the breeze, perfuming the night.

I hear the whistle of a woodcock’s wings,

the hoarse voices of frogs along the shore,

one loon calling to another,

then a deep boom from beyond the trees on the other side of the lake.  Somebody, on this ordinary Monday evening in June, is shooting fireworks up into the perfect night sky.  I stay paused, whole watermelon cradled in my arms, to scrutinize the horizon and see if I can catch a glimpse of the sparkling explosions above the treetops.

And then, like a bit of falsetto to offset all the bass, comes the whine of a cloud of mosquitoes who had taken a surprisingly long time to realize there was human flesh waiting to be sampled in the great outdoors.  I hurry inside, grateful that they stayed away just long enough to give me time to savor what I’m too often in a hurry to discover:

that even when you’re tired and to-do list is long, or maybe especially then,

there’s incredible beauty and wonder to be found in an ordinary moment in time,

if you just take the time to pause and notice.

“Cease striving, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)