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)

Brown Moss

IMG_4830 edit.jpgHave you ever made a judgement of something or someone, only to find out later that you were entirely wrong?  I’m going tell you one of my own such errors, the tale of me and a bank of moss.

I’ve walked past this side of a hill many times.  It’s the kind of open spot in an otherwise forested area where it’s painfully obvious that it was at one time scraped into by some large piece of power equipment, leaving a gaping scar in the earth.  Over time, as God blessedly made it to do, vegetation had slowly crept back in to attempt to heal the wound.  In this case, that vegetation was moss.

But the poor, dry soil seemed had gotten the better of it, and it was mostly rusty brown, dead moss!  I always rather pitied that ugly mossy hillside and hurried past to prettier things.

And then, one day, I decided to take a shortcut to where I wanted to go and actually walk straight up that hillside.  I expected the wasting moss to crunch and crumble beneath my feet, my feet to slip in exposed clay.  But to my utter surprise, what I found instead was a soft, thriving, cushioned carpet of lush rusty-brown very-much-alive moss!  What from a distance had appeared brown and dead, wasn’t dead at all!  It just happened to be a naturally reddish-brown variety!IMG_4821 edit.jpgAfter that, I forgot what I was going to do on the other side of the hill.  I was down on my knees, then on my stomach (sorry, baby), an explorer in magnificent new miniature world.  I’ve always loved the world of fungi, and it was exhilarating to meet varieties I’d never seen before in person for the very first time.

And I felt rather foolish.  How many countless times had I walked past, loftily thinking I could accurately judge what I saw from a distance, never taking the time to actually get up close and fact-check my judgement?IMG_4826 edit.jpgThere is the judgement between right and wrong, truth and lie, meted out by courts of law, mothers weighing out eye-witness accounts and facts to determine who actually took the cookies, and by God at the end of the world.  This kind of judgement is good, righteous and necessary for order and justice.

Then there is this kind of judgement I made on this mossy hillside.  Not the justice kind, but the writing off kind.  That moss is brown, I thought, therefore it could not possibly be anything but dead.  I based this “fact” off of past experience and (what I thought) was a good understanding of moss.  But it was not a fact, it was an assumption—and even though it was an educated assumption, I was wrong.  This is called “leaning on my own understanding”, which the book of Proverbs warns against and is basically thinking so highly of our own discernment and knowledge that we ultimately end up making fools of ourselves.

I’d like to say this is the only time I’ve ever made this mistake.  That I’ve never misjudged anything or anyone more significant than a bed of dead-looking moss.  But I’ve made plenty of other such errors.

I’ve assumed I wouldn’t like certain foods because my parents didn’t.

I’ve “judged a book by its cover” without ever cracking it open.

I’ve failed to shop at a store based on it’s exterior, without ever entering.

Though I may have missed out on enriching experiences, these too-quick judgments will likely not affect my life negatively in the grand scheme of things, of course.  There’s one kind of mis-judgement that I truly regret, however.  It’s that I’ve sometimes based how I think of a person off of stereotypes, other people’s prejudices or my own pre-conceived notions instead of finding out what they’re really like for myself.IMG_4831 editI’ll never forget the time my wise father encouraged me as a young person to reach out to another new young lady at church.  Without having ever spoken to her, I had already decided, in all my youthful “wisdom”, that we probably wouldn’t have much in common and had foolishly written off the idea of friendship.  Out of respect for him, however, I agreed to make the effort to introduce myself, though I expected little to come of it.  And what do you suppose happened?  You guessed it: we not only met but became good friends, and a relationship blossomed that would be a tremendous blessing to me in upcoming times of unexpected loneliness.   I often think about how much I would have missed if I had followed my foolish inclination to write her off instead of stepping outside of my comfort zone.  It’s a lesson with a happy ending that I will never forget.

Can you think of something or someone in your life that you might be making this same mistake with?  If so, I hope my stories might make you consider going back to double-check your facts.  You never know: you might discover a new variety of moss or even make a new best friend.

“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)

“…you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly.  If it is true and the matter established, [then]…” (Deuteronomy 13:14)

“…the honour of kings is to search out a matter.” (Proverbs 25:2)

A Psalm for Spring

IMG_4922 editWinter is well suited for contemplation.  Spring, I’m reminded lately, is not.  Spring is, rather, for living in the moment, moving constantly from the enjoyment of one beautiful, wonderful thing to the next, trying not to dwell on the fact that you’re probably still missing something wonderful.  Nothing sits still, lingers or waits for you.  There is a great tension of panic and excitement that wells up inside of me at the recognition of this.  I feel a little like my children, oh so impatient to be done with phonics and math, oh so eager to run outside and not miss a single glorious day of this fleeting season.

And to be honest, that’s kind of what I’ve been doing.  I’ve been so busy in my spare time taking pictures of the world exploding to life lately, I’ve had little time to think of composing words to accompany them and little motivation to sit down and apply myself to the task.  This is what happens to severely cabin-fevered Minnesotans after over half a year of winter, I suppose.  Finally, I’ve realized that soon I’ll have more pictures in my files than can ever properly fit in one blog post and I’d better quit waiting around for writing inspiration and just send them out into the world before they’re completely out of date.

Besides, I suspect the words of this ancient Psalm sum it up far better than I ever could.  Welcome to a little glimpse of the glory of spring that I’ve been reveling in.

IMG_4792 edit“How good it is to sing praises to our God, IMG_4926 edithow pleasant and lovely to praise Him!IMG_4939 edit.jpgGreat is our Lord, and mighty in power;IMG_5051 edit.jpgHis understanding has no limit.IMG_4917 edit.jpgSing to the LORD with thanksgiving; IMG_4947 edit.jpgmake music on the harp to our God, IMG_4995 edit.jpgwho covers the sky with clouds,img_5024-edit.jpgwho prepares rain for the earth,

IMG_5030 edit.jpg IMG_5044 edit.jpgwho makes grass to grow on the hills.IMG_5065 editHe sends forth His command to the earth; His word runs swiftly.IMG_5068 edit.jpgHe provides food for the animals,IMG_4978 edit.jpgand for the young ravens when they call.IMG_4984 edit.jpgHallelujah!”

(Excerpts from Psalm 147)