On the Last Day of Summer

IMG_0145Farewell to shadows of bluebells on white chicken coop walls…IMG_9119Farewell to pleasant afternoons hanging laundry on the line in the company of friendly toads…IMG_0150Farewell to grasshoppers, and white trumpet vines, and all other such elegant pairings…IMG_9486IMG_0042-1.jpgIMG_9596Farewell to barefoot days at the edge of the lake……IMG_0433-1.jpgFarewell to the haunting serenade of loons…IMG_9160 IMG_1023-1Farewell to daisy bouquets made by small hands, and smoky sunsets, gifts from forests burning far away…IMG_0883Farewell to cumulonimbus, those splendid, tall ships sailing by in the sea of the sky…IMG_0467Farewell to restless, flitting warblers in green, green meadows…IMG_0445IMG_0439IMG_0443Farewell to lush gardens decked in the thousand diamonds of sudden morning showers…IMG_0319Farewell to the brief, warm nights, sparkling with celestial beauty and fireflies, humming with mosquitoes…IMG_9864Farewell to all the sun-ripened berries hiding under the leaves…IMG_9806Farewell to picturesque encounters on whimsical summer evening drives…IMG_9688Farewell to all the babies, now raised and grown…IMG_9426Farewell to dancing swallowtails in ballrooms of flowers…IMG_9611Farewell, sweet summer; welcome, glorious autumn!

GPS

IMG_1282.JPGIt all began with a few simple needs that could be easily taken care of at a Walmart.  It would be a quick errand, I thought.  The only (small) problem?  I didn’t know where Walmart was in this unfamiliar city.

But that’s what GPS is for.

“Take me to Walmart,” I said to my phone as I contemplated the less-than-exciting but unavoidable prospect of backing an awkwardly long truck out on a blind curve.  “Okay, go now—FAST!” my husband shouted from the curb.  I stepped on the gas and watched his eyes get big as I came to a halt on the other side, mere inches from a signpost.  IMG_1311.JPG“After 50 feet take a left turn onto 8th Street,” the confident feminine voice instructed.  Still rattled from the close call with street signage, I sailed right past, missing my very first turn.

“In half a mile, take a right onto Center Street,” the voice calmly redirected.  At the intersection of Center Street, I found myself facing a road under massive construction.  I didn’t really want to go down there, so I picked a different road, hopeful that the voice would redirect me around the construction area.  No such luck.

“In one quarter of a mile, take a U-turn at the stoplight,” the voice instructed, not to be dissuaded.  I got to the stoplight, where two things became clear.  1) This big awkward truck was not going to be making this U-turn, and 2) getting to Walmart in an unfamiliar city was going to be a lot more complicated than I’d ever imagined.IMG_1303.JPGBut we eventually got there, that big truck and I, surprisingly all in one piece.  We went around the block to get back on track instead of making the U-turn.  We survived the road construction.  The voice from my phone carried me through, calm and unruffled through all my missed turns and second-guesses.

“Destination reached,” it informed me cheerfully as I pulled into the big store’s parking lot.  So, it really had known where it was going.  Well, that was a relief!  Now was the time to admit that I would have gotten there a lot faster if I’d paid closer attention and trusted it more implicitly—but what can I say?  I may be a millennial, but I’m still a little distrustful of allowing a robot to tell me what to do.

IMG_1355.JPG IMG_1406.JPGIMG_1380-1.jpgSometimes, the right way to go in life is a little like that, too.  You know, not quite as direct and smooth as we’d like?  And sometimes, even if you’re asking the right One for directions, it’s easy to mistrust and question whether He really knows where He’s taking you.  Sometimes we even go so far as to strike out on our own, hoping He’ll change his mind to suit our preferences

But if we know God and His Word, we also know that, unlike a GPS system, He doesn’t fail or make mistakes.  Our human feelings and inclinations may tempt us to question, and even lure us off track, but His ways are perfect and He remains faithful.

And loving.  Loving enough to patiently, persistently reroute us in the right direction after every foible.  Loving enough to stay with us every step of the way, right through the missed turns, road construction, and awkward U-turns.

It’s the ultimate GPS system, really: God’s Positioning Service

“If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)

“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” (Psalm 23:3-4)

(P.S. Photos not taken while looking for Walmart.)

Borrowed

IMG_0495.JPGMeet my borrowed kayak!

I can’t even tell you how excited I was the day it got dropped off in my yard.  I’ve been dreaming for a long time of being able to experiment with the versatility of a kayak, both for personal recreation (a vessel I could handle all on my own!) and the new world of photographic opportunity it would open up for me (high stealth waterfowl photography, coming right up).

But, of course, the catch is that it’s borrowed, so it comes with a time limit.  To make things even more interesting, I don’t actually know what the time limit is.  I have a few educated guesses as to when it’s owners are going to decide that they want it back, but I really don’t know.  It could be in my yard for as little as a couple weeks.  It could be in my yard for the rest of the summer.

One morning though, a week or so after it arrived, I woke up to the fact that it was still just sitting in my yard.  Wait a minute!  Time was ticking, but I hadn’t even used it!  How silly would it be, after all the excited intentions I’d voiced, to sheepishly admit to the owners when they came to get it that the only water that had touched it while it was in my possession was raindrops from a summer storm?  They would be quite justified in questioning the worthwhile-ness of the effort it took for them to transport it to me.

So, on a quiet Sunday as a hazy afternoon was fading into evening, I hauled it to the water and gave it a go.IMG_0519.JPGIMG_0565.JPGI slipped along past the water lilies, and brushed gently through the wild rice.  The water was like glass except for the artful zigzags of water bugs.  The mosquitoes stayed away, and I could hear a blue heron croaking in the distance.  Water dripped down to my elbows as I dipped the paddle up and down, and for a few minutes, the looming to-do list for the upcoming weeks faded away to the back of my mind.

It was every bit as peaceful and relaxing as I’d imagined; how glad I was that I hadn’t missed the opportunity!IMG_0542IMG_0549The quiet of the water was a peaceful place for thinking, and as I floated airily along in my orange pod, it occurred to me that the gift of life is a lot like a borrowed kayak.

I’ve heard people who were healed from cancer or survived a terrible accident call their life thereafter “borrowed time”.  They realize that they could/should have died, and whatever time they get after that feels like a precious gift.  They go on to live with much greater intention and with much deeper gratefulness for every breath they take.

Here’s the truth, though: Those survivors have had the advantage of a wake-up call to bring them to their senses, but you and I should be living with the exact same amount of appreciation and urgency as they are.  We’re really all living on “borrowed time”.  God gave us life, but none of us came into this world with an automatic 100% guaranteed Will-Live-To-Ripe-Old-Age warranty built in.

That truth can be a little unsettling, but living in denial of it never helped anybody.  Better to embrace the exciting part, that we’re all given the exact same chance to make what we can of our limited time of unknown duration—and we get to choose!  We can “leave it sitting idly in the yard”, or “take it to water and go somewhere with it”.  We can fill our hours with good intentions or we can buckle on a life jacket and start paddling those intentions into reality.  We can waste opportunities, or we can embrace them for their full potential.IMG_0571 My encouragement for the day?  If there’s a kayak sitting neglected in your yard, go use it.  It’s good for the soul.  And if your life feels a bit like a neglected kayak, go use that, too.  Spend it well–and when time is up and it’s time to give an account, you’ll have no regrets.

And that’s really good for the soul.

“For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  It is written:

“As surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow before Me; every tongue will confess to God.”

So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10-12)

 

Milkweed

IMG_0171.JPGWe paused on our evening walk by a stand of sturdy broad-leafed plants, with their rounded flower heads bursting demurely into dusty pink.  It’s a habit formed in kindergarten for both of us, this annual foray into a milkweed patch.  After years of monarch caterpillar awareness,  we “knew” that it was just that time of summer that there should be some caterpillars in that milkweed, somewhere.  And we needed to say hello, show them to our girls, maybe remind them that there’s a nice little flower garden full of butterfly-friendly flowers in front of our house that they’re welcome to visit when they’re grown up.

But where were they?IMG_0168It was a delightful little game of hide-and-seek, peering under leaves, along stems—and it was a credit to surprisingly clever camouflage that we had almost given up when we finally spotted one.  But then it was like our eyes adjusted and we suddenly saw them everywhere!  Some tiny, some large, dressed in yellow, black and white stripes, far too busy eating to notice they’d been discovered by friendly nature enthusiasts.  Did you know that a Monarch caterpillar is capable of eating an entire milkweed leaf in less than five minutes?  Pretty amazing mouth-work for such a tiny creature!IMG_0160IMG_0169A few weeks later, walking past the same stand of milkweed, I witnessed a delicate orange and black butterfly flitting from flower to flower, graciously sipping nectar, and I found myself marveling anew at the beauty of God’s design for sustainability in creation.

The plant gives of itself so the caterpillar may eat.  The caterpillar, nurtured exclusively by milkweed, becomes a butterfly.  The butterfly, fresh out of its gold-flecked chrysalis pauses to pollinate the flowers of its benefactor, therefore ensuring that it will bear seed to produce…

more plants,

for more caterpillars,

for more butterflies,

for more seed next year.

IMG_0461.JPGAnd while we’re marveling over Monarch butterflies, let’s not forget how those gorgeously designed wings covered in tiny delicate scales will carry this creature 2,500 miles to Mexico come fall, to spend a warm winter on the exact same few trees its ancestors have spent winters on for ages before, and then all the way back again in the spring to lay the eggs that will become that next generation of caterpillars—because there isn’t any milkweed in Mexico!

There’s so much to marvel at in just this one amazing life cycle in nature!  Truly:

“…since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

On the Twelth Day of Summer…

 

…my camera gave to me,

Twelve suns a-setting.

It seemed fitting to end this project with the best kind of ending a summer day could wish for, which is, of course, a glorious sunset.

Sometimes I caught reflections; once I caught a pulse of lightening in a rising thundercloud (can you spot it?).

Some were snapped at the last minute, quickly, while swatting mosquitoes; others were taken at leisure on nice evening walks down gravel roads while savoring soft evening breezes.

Sometimes the entire sky was ablaze with color; once, between storms, there was barely any color to speak of.

But the most memorable one was from the time I went sunset chasing while on my way home from a long day in town.  (That’s like storm chasing, with considerably less risk involved.)  I took off down never-before-explored roads with no other goal than to find the perfect vista—and upon finding it, was surprised to meet up with other sunset-chasers.

We were all ordinary people heading home at the end of a long, busy day, who had mutually caught a glimpse of something splendid happening through the trees.  Each one of us had swerved impulsively off the highway, out of the stream of steady traffic, and chased the sinking copper orb down a tiny dirt road to this quiet little spot.  We got out of our cars, adjusted our respective phones and cameras, nodded companionably to each other.  One girl noted to me, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”-–but that was about all that was said, and that was about all that needed to be said.

I loved the fact that though we were complete strangers to each other, we were, for a few breathtaking sunset moments, bound together by a common love of everyday beauty.  I don’t know if each of us was also thinking the same thing, but I like to hope so, because for me it was something like this:

Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and forevermore!  From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised! (Psalm 113:2-3)IMG_9668

 

 

On the Eleventh Day of Summer…

IMG_9493.JPG…my camera gave to me,

Eleven butterflies a-sipping.

A tiny parable for you:

“Come with me!” called one butterfly to another as she floated past on the soft breezes of a bright June day.

“Where to?” the other asked from her perch on a clover bud, “Why should I leave this perfectly good flower?”

“Because I want to take you to the most wonderful flowers I’ve ever had the pleasure of landing on,” she replied joyfully.  “They’re like big round tables spread with the finest lace tablecloth, with room for the largest of nectar-sipping parties.  The nectar served is the sweetest for miles—and it’s free for the taking!”

She believed her friend, and followed, and having reached the patch of cow parsnip and finding everything just a wonderful as she had been told, never once regretted the clover bud left behind.

And, so it is for us, when we take God at His Word, and forsake what does not satisfy for that which eternally does.

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live…” (Isaiah 55:1-3)

“Jesus…cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink... (John 7:37-38)

“…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

 

 

 

On the Tenth Day of Summer…

IMG_9715-1.jpg…my camera gave to me,

Ten grasses a-flowering.

Grass is to the earth like hair is to a human.

We pluck it out here; groom it carefully over there.

We chop it off here; let it go long and admire the affects over there.

We like it soft and lush; don’t like it coarse and sparse.

We wish it would grow here; don’t like that it grows there.

It’s healthiness is directly linked to the water and kind of nutrients it’s been fed.

We take it for granted until it’s thinning, or gone—and only then do we realize how valuable it actually was.

When I was thinking about the things that are quintessential to summer for this project, I knew that grass needed to be featured at some point.   It’s one of those humble, hardworking, common plants that gets trod on and passed by every day without much thought on our part, paling in the limelight of showier, more popular plant relatives—but for once I’d like to change that.  While you’re out stopping to smell the roses, why not stop to notice the grass, too?  I mean, look at all those pretty little pink stamens on that timothy grass!  There’s a world of underappreciated variety awaiting your delight.

And while you’re at it, why not take the time to think of something (or someone!) else in your life that you might be taking for granted—and pause for a minute to express true appreciation and gratefulness?

“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)