Farewell to Winter

IMG_4065 editIMG_4046 editFarewell to watching the snow banks mount to the window sills and the thermometer drop out of sight,

to pulling elastic snow pants cuffs down over small boots,

to snow caves, snow men, and snow angels,

to a world that sparkles like a thousand diamonds in the sunshine,

to stepping in unexpected snow water puddles in stocking feet.

IMG_3886 editIMG_4176 editIMG_3888 editFarewell to the sometimes exquisite, always relentless work of the winter wind, 

to the battle for an open driveway,

to the endlessly shifting sea of snow dunes,

to snow banners off the shed roof.IMG_3911 editFarewell to rainbow sun dogs,

to silver moonlight on midnight blankets of snow,

to Orion, that great starry hunter,

and to the way he and all the rest of the host of heaven twinkles most splendidly on the bitterest of winter nights.IMG_3868 editIMG_4095 editFarewell to conjuring up baking projects just for the sake of making the kitchen cozy,

to scooping up great bowls of freshly-fallen snow to make snow ice cream,

to in-season citrus in the refrigerator drawer,

to rosy-cold cheeks bent appreciatively over steaming hot drinks.IMG_4056 editIMG_4048 editFarewell to the best and longest ski season in years,

to solo breaking trails through the sunset fields,

to swishing beneath the low-hung golden-green cedars while the swans murmur to each other along the banks of a laughing river,

to laughing with friends through the trials of sticky afternoon snow,

to the great frontier of yet-unexplored trails that must now wait until next season.IMG_2945 editIMG_3497 editFarewell to the long dark of winter evenings,

to dinners made elegant by candlelight,

to laps made warm by quilting projects,

to chapters read aloud by lamplight,

to games played late with old friends, and new.img_4154-edit.jpgFarewell to winter.

Welcome to spring.

“You have established all the boundaries of the earth; You have made summer and winter.” (Psalm 74:17)

 

The Tracks We Leave Behind

IMG_8091I’m standing at the back of a church sanctuary.  The overflow area has been opened, and they’re setting up more chairs.  The front is packed; more people are filing in to fill the back rows.  The stage is overflowing with flowers, plants and one stuffed bobcat.  And I think to myself: this is the picture of a life well lived.

Of course, as everyone says, Arnie was a bit of legend.  I just sit back in awe and listen to the stories of a man who knew the forest for miles around like the back of his hand, who just as intimately knew the ways of the creatures who lived in it.  His was the spirit of the pioneers, rugged and determined, undeterred, even buoyed, by the prospect of challenge or hard work.  He waded the twining maze of ponds and creeks, walked the trails for miles, and worked willingly with his hands, comfortable with the strength of his own arms above the convenience of mechanics.  If anyone has ever lived out that Biblical exhortation—“make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands.” (1 Thess. 4:11)—Arnie certainly did.IMG_9783There will always be a picture in my mind of Arnie, from my frequent viewpoint at the piano, that lean figure over by the east windows in his preferred row at church, denim jacket peppered with Trappers Association patches, big grin spreading from ear to ear.

Considering the sort of man he was, I knew I’d received a high compliment the Sunday he came up to me, shaking his head and grinning from ear to ear, to tell me he was impressed.  Earlier that week, in sheer desperation, I’d used a shotgun for the first time in my life to kill the groundhog menacing my vegetable garden, with a single (lucky) shot, and he’d heard the tale.  I remember thinking that maybe I could be a little proud of myself if I’d managed to impress a man like Arnie Peterson.

I ate a wonderful pie once made entirely of wild berries Arnie picked, made by his wife who shook her head when she described how he just kept “coming in with more”.

I remember Arnie in hip waders at the side of the road, not too engrossed in his labor of hoisting all manner of mysterious trapping gear into the back of his truck to wave jauntily over his back.  He didn’t even know who he was waving at.  He just waved because that’s what Arnie did.

And how could I forget the time Arnie knocked at my back door, grinning from ear to ear again, to tell me I had to come see the beaver he’d just pulled out of the lake in front of our house?  Of course, I walked out to admire the flat-tailed, yellow-toothed giant lying in state in the back of his pickup truck, and listened to the full tale of how he’d finally caught the culprit that had been felling our poplar trees.IMG_9776Yes, Arnie was a legend, and I’m sure that had something to do with the number of people flowing through the church doors on this March afternoon.  But there was something else, too.  There have been other skilled woodsmen who have lived and died as crusty, crabby old men.  For all their amazing practical knowledge, their circle of friends remained small, their influence narrow. 

No, this was more than a circle of mere admirers.  These people were not here based merely on the (staggering) number of ermine, muskrat and bobcat he’d trapped in his lifetime.  They were here because Arnie made tracks in their lives.  Not the hippity-hoppity sort of a rabbit bounding across the snow or the measured tread of a wolf in creek-side mud, but that elusive kind that is not to be found on the forest floor.  It was the kind that sinks in, makes an impression and stays long after the trapping stories fade into folklore-dom.

Because Arnie loved Jesus, and so the love of Jesus filled him and spilled out into the lives of those he came in contact with.

Because Arnie could quote John 3:16, and would use it to preach the simple and beautiful gospel message.

Because Arnie would love to bow his head with you and help you pray the sinner’s prayer.

Because Arnie knew, and let those around him know, that his last breath on earth would be his first in heaven—and he hoped to see you there.IMG_7238 editI’m sad that Arnie will never get to teach my children about the tracks of fisher, bobcat and mink as we’d discussed after church only one week before he went home.  We never suspected that he’d made his last trek through one of those double doors so soon, and as abruptly as a rabbit trail ends in the wing-print of an owl, be off to praise his Maker in person.  But he’s left his own tracks of far greater worth across the landscape of our church and community, that will not be obscured by tomorrow’s snowfall, and will bear fruit into eternity—and for that, we’re all grateful.

“Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in His commandments…his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD…[he] will be remembered forever.” (Psalm 112:1,7,6)

“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32)

Sledding

IMG_3811 edit.jpgAt the top of the sledding hill, the soft whir of tiny wings and the pleasant songs of chickadees surrounded me.  They were dancing among the slender tree branches, up above my head against the deep blue of the afternoon sky, taking turns bobbing in and out of the dangling feeder.The rust-breasted nuthatch didn’t stir from his post on a square of suet as well-bundled sledders shouted their way down the hill, not even when I dared peek around the tree trunk to get a better look at him.  In fact, he turned out to be a bit of a show off.  Bet you can’t hang upside down while eating a chunk of lard. 

You’re probably right, little birdie.  But I can still relish a good hollering snow-in-the-face swish down a snowy hill, and that’s something.IMG_3821.JPGHe looked at me skeptically, so I figured I’d better prove my point.  I left him and his feathered friends to their feast, and down I went, small daughter tucked securely between my knees, flying over the bumps on the snowy track in the direction of the cattails.  Down at the bottom of the hill, where the sun was laying long shadows across the river bed, there was an explosion of powder as the sled hit previously un-excavated snow.  I shouted in triumph.  My daughter, with a surprise face full of powder puff snow, was not so impressed.  There were tears, then sniffles, then, to my relief, giggles as a generous sled ride up the hill was offered as recompense.

My yells of triumph quickly diminished to belabored frozen puffs of breath and the silence of effort as I shouldered into my yellow twine harness and trudged up the slope.  But when I glanced back over my shoulder, I could just see her eyes between the frozen folds of hat and face-warmer, and they were scrunched into an unmistakable smile.  She was riding like a queen in her shiny purple sequinned mittens, ensconced in state upon her blaze orange plastic chariot, and I was her trusty stead.

Oh, to be four again, when the troubles of life are so quickly and easily solved! img_3832 editAs I paused briefly to catch my breath, I noted that the birds were still bobbing  and flitting in and out of the swinging feeders at the top of the hill.  In the midst of this long, hard winter, they were obviously grateful for kindness of these and other thoughtful neighbors that make their daily food search easier.  I am grateful to the same neighbors for letting us take over their steep back yard for an afternoon.  Also grateful for the warmth exertion supplies, coupled with the sunshine that made it seem not quite as cold as the thermometer read.img_3838 editAt the top, I gave my older daughter a hearty push for a solo trip down the hill, then opened the screen door for Miss Purple Mittens to head happily indoors to hot chocolate.  (Bless you, Martie, for that!)  I deliberated over which child to follow—but then a large hairy woodpecker swooped in and made my decision easy.  Perhaps the only thing quite fascinating enough to distract me from sledding or a good hot drink is a compelling photo opportunity.

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water [or hot chocolate, if you live in northern Minnesota] to one of these little ones…truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

 

 

Shedding

IMG_3920 edit.jpgThere was no buck in sight that sub-zero evening, but he didn’t need to be there.  His story was written as clearly across the January ground as though he’d penned a tale and published it.

Heart-shaped hoof prints studded the powdery snow helter-skelter.  This deer had been doing more than just passing by.

The brittle yellow cornstalks nearby were ripped up and broken off.  This deer had been doing more than nibbling on remnants of the past fall’s corn cobs.

I didn’t fully understand the saga, however, until I’d walked a few steps further and saw something lying on the snow.  I might have overlooked it for a stick had I been in the forest, but out in the middle of a field, far from any tree, it stood out like a sore thumb.  So this was the meaning of all the ruckus!

The antler had fallen off so recently that was even still a tiny bit of red blood at the base.

The other was not to be found in the near vicinity.  My imagination filled in the blanks: perhaps the first one had fallen off easily a while ago, but this one had stubbornly hung on, half off, half on, loose and bothersome and catching on everything like a snagged fingernail.  In a fit of annoyance, he’d thrashed his head against the cornstalks.  Tonight, that young buck was enjoying the newfound freedom of a head free of at least one loose, annoying antler.

I imagined that his jubilation mirrored that of my six-year-old’s this afternoon when she finally summoned the bravery to pluck out an uncomfortably wiggly baby tooth that had stubbornly refused to fall out on its own.

Freedom!  Oh, the sweet relief.

A dear friend recently gave me a stone with that same word, “Freedom”, engraved on it.  Or rather, she asked me to, without looking, draw out of a basket full of stones engraved with many words and see what word I got—and this was it.  The word didn’t resonate with me strongly at first, but knowing that she had prayed for the word to have meaning for me, I continued to mull it over for several days—and it was out there in the swiftly falling dusk, with the bitter wind rattling the cornstalks and a lone spike antler at my feet, that I understood what it meant for me personally.

It was not a reminder of the freedoms that I already enjoyed, as I had at first thought, but an invitation to the freedoms that I still needed to experience.  Freedom from the things weighing me down, the things encumbering me, holding me back, dragging me down.  I’m not talking about people or things or other outward tangible things; I’m talking about inner bondages and burdens of the heart.

Perhaps you have a few of those, too?  Perhaps a hurt feeling, too long nursed. Perhaps a bit of jealousy, a secret wish for malice, harbored anger.  Perhaps some sense of entitlement, some need for control, some lie of worthlessness.  Perhaps some disappointment you haven’t accepted.  Perhaps some hidden fear or shame, eating away.IMG_3922 edit.jpgThen this word carved on this stone is for you, too.  It’s an invitation to break free of that inner thing that is dragging you down, to muster the courage to let go, to summon the strength that is yours to claim in Christ and bravely lay aside.  Shed it like a useless old antler, like an outgrown baby tooth.  Drop it on the ground, throw it in the garbage—and leave it there.  Then walk on, without looking back, into the fullness of freedom Christ longs for you to experience.

“Therefore…let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1)

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be encumbered once more by a yoke of slavery.” (Galations 5:1)

“…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

“Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)

 

Super Blood Wolf Moon

IMG_3766 edit 1.jpg10:20 PM CST, nearly fully eclipsed, after which my camera decided it didn’t care to focus at -30 F.

The name may seem dramatic, but it was really just a full lunar eclipse (“blood” for the reddish-brown color it turns), in January (“wolf” by the Native American calendar), on a night when the moon was closer to the earth than usual (“super”).

Which, perhaps, is amazing enough to deserve such a dramatic title.

“God is my King from of old, working salvation on the earth…The day is His, and His also the night; He established the sun and moon.” (Psalm 74:12,16)

 

Superior Dawn

IMG_3089 edit.jpgPerhaps the best thing about winter is that you don’t have to wake up in the wee hours to watch the sun rise.  For instance, you can roll out of bed at the usual time, spend half an hour bundling yourself up, stumble your way around the pre-dawn perimeter of an unfamiliar hotel building, risk life and limb to bump your way in sitting position down the steep bouldered bank to the shore—and still make it in time to watch the entire show at leisure.

Now this (all hazardous icy rocks at the bottom aside) is a photographer’s dream life.IMG_3092 edit.jpgIMG_3100 edit.jpgIMG_3114 edit.jpgIMG_3126 edit.jpgIMG_3123 edit 1.jpgimg_3146 editIMG_3127 edit.jpgThe wind off the big lake was so surprisingly mild for December, and the sound of the rhythmic waves so pleasant, I found a non-icy log to perch on and paused from my photography long enough to pull out my phone and find my Bible reading plan for the day.  And this, totally unplanned by me, was what popped up:

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness.” (Isaiah 9:2)

IMG_3152 edit.jpgIt was like God whispering into the stillness of the dawn that these photos I was taking were really pictures of Him.

Warmth creeping in to melt the cold.  Black fading to blue, then pink, then blazing gold.  Light flooding into darkness.  It was all just an echo of what He had done, what He is doing, and what He will yet do.

For me huddled on a rocky shore with a hat hastily pulled over my un-brushed bed hair.

For the receptionist in the lobby counting down the minutes until she got off night shift.

For the person in the car across the bay pausing from their work commute in the marina parking lot to watch the same thing I was.

For all the people waiting for Light, all over the world.IMG_3159 editIMG_3166 edit.jpgAs I picked my way back along the sun-kissed shore, pondering this, I looked up and spotted a different trail up the bank.  It was a safer, gentler route, one that I couldn’t see in the unfamiliar, un-mapped darkness, the way I should have taken on my way down.  I headed up, the sun warm on my back, relieved to walk confidently and upright instead of clambering awkwardly.

Again, I saw the echoes of His love, as what was once hidden in darkness was illuminated by light.  Funny how much easier it is to find the best way in the light, just like it is to find the only Way in the true Light.

“Who among you walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD; let him lean on his God.” (Isaiah 50:10)

“I will turn darkness into light before them and rough places into level ground. These things I will do for them, and I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16)

“…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light…” (Ephesians 5:8)

Mosaic

IMG_3079 editI clearly remember the first time I saw a mosaic portrait in real life.IMG_3078 edit.jpgOf course, I’ve long been familiar with simple mosaics.  There were the tile floors I helped my dad grout, and the bathroom walls of a favorite coffee shop studded with bits of broken china.  I had sewn colored squares of fabric into the mosaic of a quilt or stitched a myriad tiny x’s to make a cross-stitch pattern.  I once taught an overview class on mosaics to 7th and 8th graders, which concluded with making our own of tiny pieces of colored paper on black poster board to line the school cafeteria walls.  But on this day, I knew that I had previously known next to nothing about mosaics in comparison to the piece of art before my eyes.IMG_3042 edit.jpgI was drawn to the portrait because, unlike the oil paintings around it, it shimmered with light.  That was the only difference from any distance.  I actually thought it was a painting until I walked up to it and read the placard beneath, which identified it as a mosaic—and it was only then that I looked closely and realized that what had appeared to be a painting was really a myriad tiny pieces of glass painstakingly composed into the tender likeness of a mother and her child.  IMG_3080 edit.jpgIt was Mary, cradling the baby Jesus, of course; a truly breathtaking masterpiece.

What an appropriate medium for such a daunting subject, I thought.  How, after all, does an artist depict the faces of people we have no actual likeness of?  Perhaps a thousand tiny beautiful pieces is the best way, because when you think about the birth of Christ, it is indeed a figurative mosaic of epic proportions and complex plot.IMG_3070 edit.jpgHundreds of prophecies over thousands of years, each piece coming together flawlessly in the grand unveiling of God’s masterpiece plan to save mankind.

Secular decrees by pagan emperors made so that at the perfect time and place, a baby born in a stable to a God-favored mother and the God-fearing man who would fill the role of earthly father, from exactly the right kingly lines.

At the perfect time, in exactly the right place in the sky, a star appearing to be seen by exactly the right men who understood that it was not just any star, an epiphany so definite they would traverse the deserts to find the source of such celestial celebration.

Angel messengers.  Angel hosts.  Angels in dreams.

A miraculously-conceived yet-unborn infant leaping in his mother’s womb in the presence of the Christ he would pave the way for.

The list could go on and on.IMG_3074 edit.jpgSo many intricate pieces.  Such flawless, artful and epic execution.  But the thing that really floors me is this:

God is still crafting that mosaic.  Christmas was only the beginning of the greatest story of all time!  And it doesn’t even end at Easter.  It hasn’t ended yet.  What we see is stunning, masterful, breathtaking…but yet incomplete.  There are yet prophecies waiting to be fulfilled, trumpets waiting to sound, hearts and battles waiting to be won before it can be framed and signed by the artist.

And if you have let Him win your heart, you get to be a piece of that mosaic.  Yes, YOU, like a shimmering little piece of glass, skillfully shaped and precisely placed into that epic Christmas mosaic that stretches back through the corridors of time.  You, a mosaic within a mosaic, all the pieces and parts of you forming a life that can matter a lot and shine bright in the grandest scheme of things—if you have faith and are willing.IMG_3044 edit.jpg“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ

by grace you have been saved— 

and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus…

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:4-8, 10)IMG_3064 edit.jpgPhotos: beneath the Ghost Bridge, Lake Superior, December 2018