Following the Leader

IMG_7011.JPGIMG_6974.JPGThey walked around the milk house, then past the barn.  They paused briefly to flap their wings disapprovingly at the weeds in my garden, then continued on around the garage, and out into the hay field where they walked it’s length back and forth a couple times before finally filing back down to the shore of the lake where they came from.  All this was carried out in complete order and dignified silence.

I feel like there was some kind of lesson being taught to these young swans as they followed their parents on this mysterious tour, mimicking their elders’ every step.  What it was I never will know, I suppose.  Perhaps it was an exercise routine to strengthen land skills before a long flight south for the winter.  Perhaps it was a family outing, just for the fun of it.  Perhaps it was an educational tour of local farm life (if they were expecting anything spectacular, I’m afraid they were disappointed).

Or maybe I was just watching the trumpeter swan version of the game of “Follow the Leader”.  If that was the case, we could certainly learn from their example.  It’s a game that contains principles for life.IMG_6990.JPG“Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)

“If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:26)

More posts about our resident trumpeter swans here, here , here and here.

 

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All On a Saturday Night

IMG_7055.JPGIt was a Saturday night.

The mingled aromas of garlic, basil and oregano lingered in the kitchen, echoes of a tomato-zucchini-chicken-mozzarella-smothered dish that had my husband claiming that all that was lacking was tiramisu to transport him to our favorite Italian restaurant.

A candle was still flickering on the table from our late night meal, the first candlelight one of the year.  Behind it, a fistful of Russian sage stood stiffly upright, stuffed in a vase with all the advanced flower arranging skills of a four-year-old.  It was, after all, the fistful of Russian sage I didn’t have the heart to scold her for picking because it was so sweet the way she happily presented it to me.  The bouquet threw flowery shadows to dance on the wall as the flame below it flickered.

The baby was sleeping, peaceful, in her wooden cradle, lamplight making spindled shadows across her blanket while long eyelashes rested softly on round cheeks.

The squeaks and splashes of her older sisters in the midst of enjoying their Saturday night bath echoed from the bathroom.

I rinsed soap bubbles off the last clean white plate and set it on the rack to dry, humming to the old familiar song playing softly in the background, that one that forever conjures up black and white images in my mind of my grandpa when he was a little boy.

And then I turned out the lights—but before I could blow out the candle, I caught a glimpse through the window of silvery mists swirling over the fields.  A great yellow moon was rising through the trees and there was a path of liquid gold across the lake, leading straight to it, calling me out.

When I stepped back inside, there was dew on my bare feet and a cratered harvest moon captured on my camera.  The crowning touch to a perfectly ordinary evening in which all the simple, happy things of life were strung like pearls and shone together as one beautiful blessing.

“Return to your rest, O my soul, for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.” (Psalm 116:17)


 

September Rain

IMG_7026.JPGI’m hurrying to finish my errands on a gray and rainy day, wishing I had brought an umbrella.  I’m focusing on the heavy clouds and the moisture seeping uncomfortably into my shoes.  I almost missed it.  But the tiny flash of color caught my eye as I passed and I turned back to look.  And there, out of the blue, in the last place a country girl expects to capture the essence of autumn, there’s this single leaf, liquid golden-yellow against a city sidewalk wet with September rain.

Before you know it, I’m running back to my car for my camera, ignoring the great drops splashing on my head as I lean in to capture this one small, brilliant taste of fall—and suddenly grateful for the rain that saturates the colors and makes it shine.  Even in the rain, He gives good gifts, if only we have our eyes open to see—and sometimes they’re all that much better because of it.

“…Rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful…” (Joel 2:23)

 

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Ten Things To Do When Overrun With Pumpkins

img_7563And I return, with the second in my series of “Ten Things to Do With Over-Abundant Vegetables” posts.  I didn’t necessarily set out to make this a series, but last year’s post on cucumbers ended up being a popular one—and even I referenced back to it when I needed to refresh my memory this summer.  So, here we go again—and this time pumpkins get to take the stage!

Last year we got so many pumpkins, I gave some away, allowed others to freeze in their role as porch decorations instead of rushing them inside to save them, and even threw away the last couple that spoiled before I could get to them.  That was after I had frozen I don’t know how many quarts of roasted pumpkin for future baking projects.

I scaled back on the number of pumpkin hills this year, but the ones I did plant are already promising to produce abundantly.  And then, when I cleaned out our freezer last week, I discovered 20 quarts of frozen roasted pumpkin.  People, I did this is a whole year later, and I promise that I actually did use some throughout the year.  Whoa.

So it looks like I’ll be making a lot of pumpkin things in my kitchen in the coming weeks—and I thought maybe you’d like to join in on the fun?  The list that follows includes some of my personal tried and true favorites.  (It does assume, though, that you know about the tried and true classics, like pumpkin pie (Libby’s forever!!!) and pumpkin bread.)

  1. Give thanks for your blessings.
  2. Make the cupcakes that are usually my birthday cake.
  3. Make these pumpkin muffins with cream cheese filling, or these without.
  4. Make pumpkin pecan backed steel cut oatmeal for breakfast.  Pro tip: surprisingly, this dish, like pumpkin pie, is better cold so it’s great for making the night before.  Also, it’s especially amazing topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a drizzle of maple or agave syrup.
  5. Make sweet pumpkin scones or savory.
  6. Try pumpkin in your pasta.
  7. Try your hand at a homemade pumpkin spice latte!  My friend Erica has an awesome recipe here.
  8. Carve out the inside of a giant pumpkin and fill it with apple cider for a fun punch bowl for an autumn party.
  9. Fall decorations, of course.  I love the look of white pumpkins in rooms where I don’t necessarily want to add the color orange, but do want to add a touch of fall!  Take note for your garden next year:  this little heirloom variety is easy to grow and produces enough to decorate your whole house and share some with your friends!  (Spoken with the voice of experience!)
  10. You know how they say that the old time settlers used to use all of the pig except the squeal?  Well, you can use all of the pumpkin except the skin.  Roast the seeds, and  then recycle the stem to make these.
  11. Bonus for you: my favorite Cinderella pumpkin seeds can be found here.

In Spite of the Cosmos

IMG_6813.JPGThe theme of my flower garden this year was, officially, low cost and low maintenance.  Low maintenance, because I knew I’d have less time than ever with a newborn this summer, and low cost, because why spend money on something I might not even have time to take care of?

A few days before our third daughter was born, I thinned out all the baby cosmos plants that had self-seeded from the year before.  Then I filled in the holes with miscellaneous flower seeds leftover from previous years.  And then I abandoned it to grow, hoping the emerging seedlings would somehow trump the inevitable emerging weeds without any help from me, and that when I came out of the fog that is life for the first month or so after a baby is born, there would be a garden full of flowers.  It’s not exactly my recommended method of flower gardening, but I figured it still might be better than nothing.

A month or so later, when I remembered again that I had a flower garden and went to see what had become of it, I was surprised to find that the flowers had actually triumphed over the weeds.

The only problem was—the conqueror had been the cosmos, and the weeds were not the only victims to languish in it’s shadow.  I looked in vain for the calendula, foxgloves and cone flowers, and finally located a few pale lupines.  Deep beneath the jungle of feathery giants, were some sickly zinnia plants.

Oops.

Obviously I had not thinned the volunteer cosmos quite as well as I should have.  So much for my idea of a mixed flower garden. Sigh.

Well, anyway, I was just happy to still have some flowers growing on a year I didn’t have much time to invest in caring for them.

Then, one day in August I glanced out my kitchen window and noticed something glowing brilliantly coral in the midst of all the pink.  I hadn’t planted any coral colored cosmos.  I don’t think there’s even such a thing.  I went out straightaway to investigate.img_6822That’s when I discovered that the pale zinnias I had dismissed as failures hadn’t languished in the shadow of the cosmos after all, but had pushed through sturdily and bloomed.  And they weren’t even stunted.  They were magnificent!img_6740img_6736IMG_6824.JPGAnd so, the moral of the story is:

When it feels like the entire cosmos, er, universe is against you, don’t shrivel up and languish like a calendula.  Don’t wither away like a halfhearted cone flower or foxglove.  Be a zinnia.  Dig your roots in deep into Christ, push your way through the overwhelming obstacles, and grow.

It’s a beautiful thing.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:35-37)

 

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Here, 1475 Feet Above the Ocean

IMG_6865.JPGTo the many photos that have been snapped by countless tourists, I will add yet two more.  But you know—it’s hard not to agree with them that it’s inspiring to view the humble beginnings of something great.

“Here 1475 feet above the ocean the mighty Mississippi begins to flow on its winding way 2552 miles to the gulf of Mexico…”img_6888“All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.” (Ecclesiastes 1:7)

Hope of Spring

tulip bulb / rejoicing hillsShhh!  Don’t tell the chipmunks.  This last week, thanks to this unseasonably mild autumn weather we’ve been having, I knelt in the soft earth of my flowerbed and tucked fifty tulip bulbs deep into the ground.

I dreamed of spring as I carved out those six inch deep holes and dropped in the white bulbs with their papery-thin rosy-brown skins.  It always seems strange, even cruel, to plant bulbs just as winter is looming with it’s long months of bitter cold.  I know it’s the way it has to be, though, and I know that sure as the spring will come, these tulips will come alive and blossom in due time.

It seemed very fitting that I planted them the same month that my grandpa went home to be with the Lord and we buried his remains also in the earth.  This, too, seemed like a harsh end for a beloved man who lived so long and well.  Or rather, it would have if it had not been for a confidence of a different sort of spring we all cherished in our hearts as we said goodbye.

Yes, those last days of suffering,

that shadow of death,

the tears,

that hole in the ground amidst a crowd of other grave stones,

the empty armchair in the house down the road—

the cruel reality of it all was harsher than any bitter winter wind that ever blew on earth.IMG_1422 edit

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Yet the sadness was so colored by joy, it was almost hard to tell the difference.  The damp chill of a November rain hung around us, but the church rafters rang with victory, because what seemed like loss and death to us meant only triumphant new life for him in the presence of the God and Savior he had loved so long.

He had waited eagerly through all the seasons of life, finally and bravely walked through the darkest death of winter—and now, somewhere, up in heaven, it was springtime at last for Grandpa.

“We hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.”  (Romans 8:25)

For more posts about my grandfather, see here and here.

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White Water

white water / rejoicing hillsWe stood on the dam, peering over the edge.  The roar was deafening.

“Dat water is white, Daddy!” our little girl observed.

“Yes, honey.  That’s how you know the water is going very fast.”

I was thankful for the tightly secured chain link fencing on both sides of the walkway as she stood at the very edge, surprisingly unafraid, watching in fascination as the water spewed tight through the spillways and churned free into the river below.  It was all very exciting, her three-year-old mind oblivious to the warning signs and hazard lights blinking danger all around us.  Daddy and mommy were there with her.  What did she have to fear?

She didn’t know that white water also meant trouble.river's edge / rejoicing hillsI thought about a conversation my husband and I had had earlier in the day, about the trouble in the world and all around us.

Sometimes it can be terribly discouraging, especially when it seems to heap up and come at you from all sides.  You can feel like you’re being tossed around as relentlessly as the tight angry waters in one of those spillways, battered hard against the concrete walls, and all you want is the relief of finally being spewed out the other side so you can find some quiet pool downstream where you can rest and breathe again.

It made me tense and weary just to think of it, and I was relieved when we moved off the dam, and onto a tiny winding trail that followed the river’s edge.  I liked this better.  Here, there were delicate ferns clinging to mossy rock walls, birch trees leaning gracefully over the calmer ripples at the water’s edge and a soft autumn carpet of warm lacy brown oak leaves underfoot.  The roar of the dam faded away in the distance, replaced by the gentle sound of water lapping against rocks along the shore and the whispering breeze in the trees.  Ah—these were the restful places I had in mind.brown oak leaves / rejoicing hillsrocks in the water / rejoicing hillsIMG_1392 editOr were they?

I stumbled as I clambered down a rocky side path to get a closer look at the pretty little ferns.  The thick carpet of oak leaves had been deceptive—what I had thought was solid ground was not.

Was there no escaping trouble?  No, I realized, shaking my head over the irony of it as I regained my footing and continued on more cautiously—there really wasn’t.  If it wasn’t glaring in your face, it always seemed to be hiding where you least expected it.

This was no secret to Jesus, which is why He once stated to his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble.”  He knew it was not just a possibility or a maybe.  It was a certainty.  If it wasn’t clear cut persecution, it would be the enemy inside you, that wearying war between the flesh and the spirit.  If wasn’t trouble of your own making, it would be trouble of someone else’s making, purposeful or unintentional.  If it wasn’t any of these, it would just be the stark reality that we live in a fallen world where there is sickness, and death, and the struggle to survive, and where the sheets we got as a wedding present wear out and rip clean through.  (Yep, just this morning.)  And then there would be fear, the thing that can get you even when nothing is actually wrong.

fern on rock face / rejoicing hillsIMG_1388 editSo what did He mean when He followed up that statement with this one?

“But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Obviously He didn’t mean that we’d escape all trouble by following Him.  If anything, He warned elsewhere that there would be more if we did.  But then I thought back to the beginning of the verse, before He even comments on the certainty of trouble:

“I have told you these things so that in Me you might have peace.”

That phrase “IN ME” jumped out at me, and then it clicked.  So the picture of the peace He was talking about was really right back up on that dam. The two of them were back on it now, making their way slowly across the walkway.  The small girl in the gray jacket walked calmly next to her daddy between the chain link barriers, the late afternoon sunlight highlighting all the little hairs escaping from her braids.  She stopped periodically to look over the edge and ask questions.  In the midst of the noise and turbulence, the calm voice of his explanations and the reassurance of his presence were all the security she needed.ferns / rejoicing hillsThis was peace.

Not in finding our comfort in our circumstances but finding it in the One who walks beside us.  The reality of trouble will never be any greater than the certainty of His presence.  It’s as astonishing and simple as that—and my little girl knew it better than I did.

I stepped up onto the walkway myself, and my steps quickened as I hurried to catch up to my family, hardly noticing the white water churning below as my heart flooded with renewed peace and the determination to learn from her example.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:20)

Gone Away is the Bluebird

bluebird feather / rejoicing hillsAll summer long, as I watched my sociable little swallows raise their family, there was another family of birds, much shyer, quietly doing the same in another nest hidden away somewhere in the trees around our yard.  Nearly every day, I’d glimpse a flash of brilliant blue as they were busy caring for their brood—and eventually we’d see the whole family out learning how to fly.

They never let me get close enough for a picture, much as I would have liked one, and now they’re all gone, headed for the south to flee the coming snow.  But while I was out taking photos of the sunset the other day, I happened to glance down at the ground and was delighted to discover that one of them had left me this shining sapphire of a goodbye gift.

It was like a lovely little promise.  We’ll be back!  I tucked it carefully away to remind myself in the midst of the coming winter that this was true.

“…the stork in the sky knows her seasons; and the turtledove and the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration…” (Jeremiah 8:7)

And so, until next spring, lovely bluebirds!

When Autumn Comes

nasturtium / rejoicing hillsWhat does that picture have to do with autumn, you ask?  Where are the photos of flaming red maple leaves and golden poplars?

Yes, I know.

This is a strange time of year to post pictures from my flower garden. But the lovely truth is that this is exactly how my flowers looked for the entire month of September.  We kept getting frost warnings, and every morning I kept thinking that I’d wake up to find them all black and wilted—but on they bloomed, seemingly unfazed by the chilly nights.  October came, and they still looked gorgeous even after the tomatoes I’d left in the garden froze and the leaves on the maples across the field had turned to orange.

I was both amazed by their resilience, and delighted.  I was even beginning to wonder if they were invincible.

russian sage / rejoicing hillsapricot nasturtium / rejoicing hillsThen my baby let out her hungry cry just after 6 AM Monday morning, just like clockwork.  I tiptoed sleepily in to scoop her up, and stopped to peek out the window.  I expected to glimpse the first pale brightening to the east of the sun rise, and I did—but my attention quickly shifted to the rest of the world.  It was breathtakingly white with a frost so thick it almost looked like snow.  Fog was rolling in heavy off the lake in the chilly air.  The cosmos and nasturtiums stood starkly silhouetted against the steadily brightening sky, stiff with the heavy lace of frost.

Would they survive even this, I wondered?

cosmos / rejoicing hillscosmos / rejoicing hillsI didn’t have to wait long for my answer.  The sun rose, and the little garden of billowing old-fashioned flowers that had brought me so many hours of dish-washing pleasure wilted and turned black.  Of course, they weren’t invincible.  They had lasted long, but their turn had come, like it always must, to succumb to winter’s coming cold.  As I regretfully watched them droop, I was reminded of the comparison made in James:

“For the sun rises…and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.” (James 1:11)

It’s so easy to admire and long for, even covet, the riches and prestige of this world.  The possessions, the comforts, the privileges—and no matter how much you have, it seems like there’s always something more to get.  But the truth is, it’s all just as fleeting and temporal as the flowers in my garden after harsh frost.cosmos at sunset / rejoicing hills  I love, though, that James follows this somewhat disheartening truth up some good news.  Because while earthly riches are of surprisingly low value in God’s economy, he’s quick to tell us that there is something of infinitely greater value to pursue:

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”  (James 1:12)

When the end of all things comes, it will not be the one with the most money in his bank account who is honored, but rather the one who has remained faithful through trial and temptation for the sake of the One he loves.

May we each take our eyes off the earthly things around us that sparkle and call with empty promises of satisfaction, and set our eyes instead on that higher and sure goal, a glorious crown of life!