Project 52 #23: Hello, Poppies!

When we first moved to our little rented farm in MN, one of the first things I envisioned was a row of bright red giant Oriental poppies along the white milk house, and I began working towards this goal immediately.

Unfortunately, it proved an elusive goal. I bought plants, and they died. I planted seeds and they didn’t germinate. Then some finally took, only to be mostly obliterated by the chickens. A well-intentioned soul thought they were weeds (poppies do look a little like thistles at first) and weed whacked them. A couple summers they struggled between the weeds because I was too pregnant to do anything about it. After awhile, I got one plant to grow, then finally two. But the full row of plants that I had at first envisioned did not successfully grow and splendidly bloom until a good seven or eight years after I began trying.

They were a symbol of perseverance for me, and the pleasure of success was all the greater as a result. When I knew we were going to be moving away, even though it was a little thing in the grand scheme of things, I mourned leaving my hard-won row of poppies behind.

But one of the biggest mind shifts God prompted my heart to when we were contemplating a move, was shifting my focus from what I might be losing to all the things I might be gaining. He convicted my heart with a quiet, “Has it occurred to you what good, beautiful and amazing things I may have in store for you there?” It was indeed a matter of trust. I had to relinquish my limited understanding, and leave room for God to surprise me.

Incidentally, one of things He surprised me with was….you guessed it: POPPIES…in my new front yard.

When I realized that there were giant red poppies getting ready to bloom in abundance in a row right next to my new home, all I could think of was the stunning magnitude of God’s love for me.

It was the tiniest little glimpse into this truth: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!”
(Psalm 84:10-12)

The other life lesson here? Always plant something for the people who will come behind you.

P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!

Project 52 #22: Memorial Beach

Memorial Beach is a remote beach at the very northern tip of the island, a good 4+ hour drive away from Thorne Bay. We’ve been wanting to go up there for a while, but we knew we wanted to spend the night and have some time to enjoy the place if we drove that kind of distance. The options of places to stay were 1) bring a tent, or 2) be lucky enough to be the first one to claim the one and only first-come, first-serve three-sided camping shelter. That’s it. In other words, it needed to be decent weather for tent camping, because there was no guarantee of securing the shelter.

When the forecast popped up with two days straight of sunshine with zero chance of rain (a bit of a rarity here in a rainforest!), we made some fast plans and went for it. I’m so glad we did. The weather was absolutely perfect, and we were fortunate enough to have the beach completely to ourselves for most of our stay—including the coveted camping shelter, complete with bunks and a tiny woodstove!

Prepare yourself to scroll through a lot of pictures!

It’s hard to accurately depict scale in photos sometimes, but the first shot below of Zach walking on the beach gives you some idea of the size of the old growth forest that surrounded us. These were BIG trees, and the forest floor beneath them was the loveliest place to walk.

There were some really beautiful and unique rocks at this beach, including marble. We also saw sea lions, sea otters and seals in the distance, and found the beautiful sea anemone pictured below. Our little camping shelter was situated perfectly to watch the sun set—what a treat to have nothing on our agenda but to sit there and watch it go down. We savored the beauty and silence of this place so much, and we only wished we had brought enough water and food to stay longer!

What I’ve been reading and thinking about this week:

“[The Lord] sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.
He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me.”
(2 Samuel 22:17-20)

So very, very thankful for this truth!

Project 52 #21: A Heart of Worship

“So David went and had the ark of God brought up from the house of Obed-edom into the City of David with rejoicing. When those carrying the ark of the LORD had advanced six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened calf.

And David, wearing a linen ephod, danced with all his might before the LORD, while he and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting and the sounding of the ram’s horn.” (2 Samuel 6:12-15)

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the topic of worship lately. Perhaps that’s why those aspects of the story of David, sweet psalmist of Israel, have especially stood out to me as I’ve been reading through 1st and 2nd Samuel. David was very human (a fact that the Bible certainly doesn’t gloss over), but in spite of this it is his clear understanding of worship that consistently stands out and seems to mark him as a “man after God’s own heart”.

The definition of “worship” reads: “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity”. Worship is not necessarily music, or even words. Broadly, worship is simply anything that is deliberately done to bring glory to God. As Paul encourages: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God!” (1 Corinthians 10:31). It kind of seems like you can’t go wrong if your purpose is right.

But interestingly, there’s an incident from David’s life that illustrates that worship is not to be offered carelessly, even if we mean well. Previously to the grand triumphal entry I quoted above, David had made an attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem that didn’t go quite so well.

“And [David] and all his troops set out…to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name—the name of the LORD of Hosts, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on it. They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart, bringing with it the ark of God…David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD with all kinds of wood instruments, harps, stringed instruments, tambourines, sistrums, and cymbals.” (2 Samuel 6:2-5)

Seems pretty good so far. But then—

“Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen had stumbled. And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down on the spot for his irreverence, and he died there beside the ark of God…That day David feared the LORD and asked, “How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me?”” (2 Samuel 6:6-7, 9)

David’s intentions were great—but he had hastily overlooked some of the basic rules God had outlined for the transportation of the ark (it was to be carried by hand, not wagon). Uzzah had overlooked them even further, and put out his hand to steady the ark—and was struck dead for his irreverence. As the son of a priest Uzzah should have known better, but it’s also a fact that if the ark had been transported properly, there never would have been occasion for this calamity. Great intentions in worship do not negate God’s laws of order and holiness.

However, within the parameters of God’s law, there is beautiful freedom and flexibility for how we express our worship.

That’s evident in the story above, when on the second (correct and successful!) attempt to bring the ark up to Jerusalem, David, led the procession, dancing with joyful abandon before the Lord. His own wife watched him do this, and despised him for making a fool of himself before his people. It is key to note here that he was not dancing to entertain or impress. He obviously did NOT impress Michal. He wanted the entry of the ark to Jerusalem to be about God, not himself. He could have chosen as king to be dressed in his richest robes, conducting himself with pomp and circumstance, but instead he chose to humble himself to the level of the common people. In response to his wife’s disdain, he replies:

“I was dancing before the LORD, who chose me over your father and all his house when He appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel. I will celebrate before the LORD, and I will humiliate and humble myself even more than this.” (2 Samuel 6:21-22)

At another point in David’s life, he writes: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise. For You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; You take no pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:15-17) This was a different type of worship—that of contrition, or recognizing his sinfulness in comparison to the awesome perfection and holiness of God—but it was again a position of humility. Interestingly, he went on to say “…THEN You WILL delight in righteous sacrifices, in whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on Your altar.” (Psalm 51:19) It was not that God didn’t want the sacrifices that He Himself had instituted, but that they were meaningless to Him if they were not offered out of a heart of humility.

Humility,

coupled with awareness of God’s instructions for order and holiness,

is the key to worship that aligns our hearts with God’s.

Project 52 #20: Summer Approaching

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storehouse or barn; yet God feeds them. How much more valuable you are than the birds!

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? So if you cannot do such a small thing, why do you worry about the rest? Consider how the lilies grow: They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith!

And do not be concerned about what you will eat or drink. Do not worry about it. For the Gentiles of the world strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added unto you.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide yourselves with purses that will not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:22-34)

I’m just going to leave this passage here, because I think it speaks for itself quite well without any commentary from me. But I will say that I was both convicted and encouraged. I hope you are, too.

About the photos: Spring is starting to transition to summer here, our view of the sunset has completely shifted from one side of the bay to the other, and we are doing our best to soak it up, sometimes literally.

I’m not really sure if the ocean ever warms up, but that definitely hasn’t kept people from going swimming!

Someone learned to ride her bike literally overnight, and is about as wild and crazy and pleased about it as she looks in the picture.

And we said yes to a dog. Please send help.

P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!

Project 52 #19: Treasures

This day was a gift. It was warm enough for short sleeves and bare feet at the beach (really the first day like that this spring!) and daddy was content to kick back while watching the kids in the water—so I hiked out on the point in search of low tide treasures.

Sometimes they’re the kind of treasures you tuck in your pocket, sometimes they’re the kind of treasures you tuck away in your camera…and sometimes they’re the kind of treasures that don’t fit in your pocket or make it into your camera. You’ll have to use your imagination to add the slap of the waves against the rocks, the distant echoes of children’s laughter and the warmth of the sun on skin. Insert a furry creature (mink? fisher?) too quick for my camera and an otter making ripples in the sea too far out for my lens to capture. Slow it all down to the speed of picking your way delicately along the uneven surface of rocky crustacean and seaweed covered tidal zones, each step a test and an experiment.

Then you’d about have it about right.

What I’ve been reading: This week, I started the book of 1st Samuel, which, coincidentally, went right along with my husband’s recent Mother’s Day sermon on the story of Hannah. I especially loved the way Hannah praised the Lord, giving Him all the glory for His working in her life and acknowledging His supreme control.

“The LORD brings death and gives life; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The LORD sends poverty and wealth; He humbles and He exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap. He seats them among princes and bestows on them a throne of honor.

For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s, and upon them He has set the world. He guards the steps of His faithful ones, but the wicked perish in darkness…”

And my favorite line: “…for by his own strength shall no man prevail.” (1 Samuel 2:6-9)

May I never forget the joy of answered prayer in the moments of waiting, and may I always remember that all the good things I enjoy are the result of His abundant mercies rather than my own merit.

P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!

Project 52 #18: Loving Your Enemies

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you… 

If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone takes your cloak, do not withhold your tunic as well. 

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what is yours, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 

If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. 

And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them, expecting nothing in return...

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36)

I’ve been thinking about this passage from Luke ever since I read it this last week. This goes so against the grain of our culture, and frankly, our human nature. We are so programmed to fight for our rights. But do good and lend, expecting nothing in return? And not only that, but do it for the people who don’t like you or treat you badly? Why? It doesn’t make sense!

But Christ’s kingdom isn’t just one more democracy or republic on Planet Earth, and neither are the laws that govern it commonplace or ordinary. It’s so otherworldly that it literally is upside down to everything we’re used to here. It’s so completely contrary to everything our culture and our flesh tells us, there’s no way to fuse the two together and have the “best of both worlds”. It requires a complete mind shift, a transfer of allegiance from the kingdom of this world to heavenly kingdom of our Father, a transformation from darkness to light. It’s called being heavenly minded instead of earthly minded, being visionary instead of short-sighted, realizing that success and “winning” according to God’s standards has a whole new definition, and recognizing that the rewards of heaven will far, far surpass the fleeting pleasures of this world.

That’s a lot to think about when a bully is making fun of your child, or someone treats you unfairly, or that neighbor wants to borrow something yet again and you’re pretty sure you won’t be getting it back if you agree. But I wonder what would happen if we were all brave enough and radical enough to respond 100% according to God’s ways? I don’t know for sure, but there’s a clue in Luke 6:35:

Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

About the photos: This is a mix of shots from a hike we took up One Duke Trail, and a few from the gardens around our house. The white flower pictured is a new-to-me wildflower called Mountain Marsh Marigold, which I was delighted to discover along the muskeg when we were hiking. The pink flowers are a gorgeous domestic flower that someone planted in the gardens by our house before my time. I don’t know what they’re called, though—can any of you tell me?

P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!

Project 52 #17: On Salmonberries and Friendship

The forest here is really beginning to burst with color and life, and I am loving watching it all. With so many different and unfamiliar kinds of plants in this wet, coastal climate, it’s like getting to know a new friend.

Already a few favorites are developing, like the lovely and prolific salmonberry bushes. I’ll always remember when we met the salmonberries for the first time last July, on the evening of our arrival in Alaska. It was the girls’ first day to see our new home, and they were full of excitement and curiosity. Before we knew it they were picking salmonberries with the neighbors, giant sparkling jeweled berries that grew wild and free along the streets. We were instantly charmed. You could say we and the salmonberries hit it off right away. We picked more in the next few weeks while the berries were in season and made some treats with them. I might have told you then that I was now familiar with salmonberries.

But then, we watched the autumn frosts touch their leaves, that eventually fell to the ground. We watched the canes dripping bare with November rains, weighed down with December snows and January ice. We waited for spring to slowly, slowly wake them up. One day in March, I overheard one lady exclaim delightedly to another in the store: “I saw the first salmonberry blossom today!” I walked out of that store and promptly went looking until I found a bush along the waterfront, studded with twisted buds on the verge of bursting open. I was surprised and delighted to discover that they were a vivid shade of brilliant pink. Now they are open everywhere, as pictured above, studding the leafing branches with punches of color. It yet remains in the next couple months for us to watch the petals fall and the berries to develop before we come full circle. I realize now that it takes more than a great first impression and having a little fun together to build true familiarity.

Friendship is like that. Even if you hit it off right away, the development of a true, lasting friendship takes time, weathering all the seasons of life, the good and the bad, each shared experience another building block in the process of developing a relationship with anyone. Like the world of nature, friendship is organic. It can’t be forced or rushed, but it can be encouraged and nurtured. And sometimes, something truly beautiful comes of it, the kind of friendship that people write stories about.

The book of Ruth is one of those kind of stories. Ruth starts out the story as a foreign heathen Moabite woman, brought into relationship with Naomi by marriage to her son. The death of Mahlon, their mutual interest, could easily have separated them, but instead drew them closer. By the end of the story, Ruth has become better to Naomi “than seven sons”. These women grieved together, journeyed together, went through hardship together, solved problems together, rejoiced together, and, most importantly, grew in their understanding of and trust in God together—and the result may have been one of the loveliest mother-in-law/daughter-in/law relationships ever recorded.

“Boaz replied, “I have been made fully aware of all you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth, and how you came to a people you did not know before.  May the LORD repay your work, and may you receive a rich reward from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have taken refuge.” (Ruth 2:11-12)

“Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a kinsman-redeemer. May his name become famous in Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” (Ruth 4:14-15)

P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!

Project 52 #16, Part 2: Swan Song Trail

Have you ever had one of those moments in life where you feel like you need to pinch yourself to make sure whatever you’re experiencing isn’t a dream? When we stepped out of the forest trail onto the shores of this ocean inlet sparkling in the sunshine, and saw the mountains rising snowy and majestic beneath the blue sky before us, that’s exactly how I felt. If it had been a movie set, the soundtrack would have been by John Williams. The scenery was that epic.

We followed the shoreline of the inlet out to where a World War II-era EC-47 airplane had to make an emergency crash landing in 1968 due to engine failure. The landing was successful enough that all four passengers survived, and the plane didn’t burn up, leaving us with a little piece of history in an unlikely place. Fifty-four years later, it’s a bit more worse for the wear, but it makes for a great place to take a snack break on an improvised plane wing picnic table. The kids had a blast climbing around on it, and little Jonathan cried when it was time to go and kept calling, “Bye, hair-plane!” for a long time after we left.

Along the way, we were thrilled to see and hear sandhill cranes (too fast for my camera), and not thrilled (but also not surprised) to find fresh bear tracks in the mud. I spotted a new-to-me variety of shorebirds, pictured below. Two of our party nearly lost a boot in the muddy tidal flats, so that was a new lesson learned about the ocean.

“[You] set the earth on its foundations, never to be moved.

You covered it with the deep like a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.

At Your rebuke the waters fled; at the sound of Your thunder they hurried away—the mountains rose and the valleys sank to the place You assigned for them—You set a boundary they cannot cross, that they may never again cover the earth.” (Psalm 104:5-9)

P.S. Yes, I know I already did a post #16, but this time you get a bonus! We went on two different excursions this week, taking advantage of the gorgeous weather, and it just felt like the photos of them needed to be in two separate posts.

Project 52 #16: Finding Spring

One of the main things I’ve noticed about spring in southeastern Alaska, is that it is slow in comparison to what I’m familiar with. In Minnesota, we have a long, cold, drawn out winter, generally followed by a fast and furious spring, barely a month or two between the season of snow-on-the-ground to the heat of summer. It always felt like the world was exploding when spring came, and if you blinked, you’d miss it. Here, it feels different.

Spring is a full season here, not just a brief commercial between winter and summer. It’s much more contemplative and thoughtful. The daffodils poke up gently, then slowly rise. The pussy willows blossom gray, then linger for weeks before turning green. The temperatures rise very gradually, almost imperceptibly. You have TIME to take pictures of things here. I appreciate that feature.

Another thing to get used to is the effect of the ocean and mountains on the season. I drive a few miles across the mountains to the western side of the island to find that the flowers and foliage there are a good week ahead of ours on the east side. The violets along a mountain trail are barely poking up, while the violets along Gravelly Creek are wide open and blooming, and it’s all a matter of elevation!

While some signs of spring are the same here, like pussy willows or the return of the robins, there are some delightful new ones to enjoy, too. We walked a trail on the western side of the island this week, and got to see a few of them up close.

Salmonberries blossom early, and they are a delightful shade of pink!

Herring eggs wash up on shore, tiny jewels amidst bits of seaweed. Zach dared me to eat one, and so I popped a clump in my mouth and then he said, “No, stop, don’t do it!” Haha! Guess he didn’t think I would actually go for it. Harvesting herring eggs is a tradition started long ago by the natives here, and they are considered a wonderful seasonal delicacy. He just didn’t know if it was okay to eat ones washed up on the shore or not.

The skunk cabbage blossoms are a startlingly showy yellow flower, that remind of me of giant calla lilies. They are the bright splashes of spring yellow to the boggy ditches here that the marsh marigolds are in Minnesota. They do, indeed, have a fragrance reminiscent of skunks, but thankfully fainter. My two-year-old son was mostly fascinated by the fact that there are little bugs inside the flowers.

And finally, we have the devil’s club just beginning to bud. This is one of those crazy fascinating plants like stinging nettle that you can handle only with gloves (check out those thorns, which they say are nearly impossible to pull out of your skin and must be left to work their way out on their own), but apparently boasts amazing healing properties. I bought some locally-made devil’s club salve to try, so we shall see if the claims are true!

What I’ve been reading this week: The book of Judges, which is one endless cycle of the children of Israel falling away from the Lord, receiving the consequences for their sin, then repenting, followed by God mercifully sending someone to rescue them from their affliction. There are some great, inspiring stories, and also some really sobering ones—all great commentary on the sinful predictability of humankind, and a God who is both just and merciful.

“…may all Your enemies perish, O LORD! But may those who love You shine like the sun at its brightest.” (Judges 5:31)

P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!

Project 52 #15: Pebbly Beach

This was a beautiful, restful place to end a very, very busy Easter week. The morning had been wonderful, with the Christians of our community uniting in a truly joyous celebration of the resurrection. An outdoor sunrise service at the park, a fabulous brunch potluck, an indoor service with the beautiful ending of a baptism, dinner with friends, a community egg hunt, all of it so good—but now, we were tired.

I needed the sound of the waves more than I realized. Picking my way along the beach in search of colors and shapes and forms of life, a slow and silent pastime, was incredibly restful and rejuvenating. Far out, flashing rich brown against the blue, two sea lions were traveling south, and up the shore a few friends gathered peacefully around a crackling fire of driftwood, contentedly watching the sun turn the snowy peaks across the strait pink as it sank in the west.

I suspect that’s why Jesus’ disciples, too, headed to the sea after all the drama of the events leading up to His death and resurrection. Being human, I can only imagine how stimulated and drained and emotionally exhausted they were after the incredible lows and highs of the previous week. They did what we all do when we are spent—they went back to the familiar things, to the soothing rhythm of the wind and the waves, and the things they could do without thinking too hard, like fishing. Maybe for some of them, time alone and in the outdoors was what they needed to sort their thoughts out (there had to be a crazy amount of them running through their heads after the week they’d just been through!) and make sense of it all. I know I’m like that.

Today, I was grateful to be reminded that HE PAID IT ALL and IT IS FINISHED.

“But Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed His last. And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:37)

No more striving of mankind necessary. Hallelujah!

P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!