Looking for the Light

The longest darkest nights of winter are here.

Growing up in Minnesota, I’ve always known the contrast of short days of winter to the long ones of summer, but here in southeast Alaska the difference is even greater. While we certainly didn’t move up to the Arctic circle where the days dwindle down to almost nothing, we have indeed moved north, and this is the time of year when we realize it most. The arc of the sun across the sky is shallow, a big blazing ball always in your eyes, rolling in a low arc over the mountains across the bay. This week, on winter solstice, the sun rose at 8:17 AM and set at 3:18 PM. An all-day snowstorm obscured the light even further.

Mankind’s yearning for light is especially distinct at this time of the year.

I was thinking about this as we walked out onto the marina on Sunday night, a group of Christmas carolers with clouds of breath hovering about us in the frosty air. My eyes instinctively sought the points of light as we peered down the docks, looking for the houseboat windows that glowed, signaling that their occupants were home. Around the bay, festive lights twinkled, outlining roof edges and trees in windows. Far above us, pinpricks of starlight formed constellations, and a gentle glow in the east signaled the impending rise of the moon. Someone answered our knock, and headlamps shone down on song sheets. We sang about light:

“Son of God, love’s pure light

Radiant beams from Thy holy face,

With the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord at Thy birth, Jesus Lord at Thy birth.”

Light posts glowed periodically along the marina as we walked back to shore, guiding us safely down the solid boards of the dock and away from the dark icy ocean at its edges. The church was waiting down the street, the cross a lighted beacon and the windows glowing with the promise of hot drinks and cookies awaiting us inside. The door opened and light flooded warmly across the street, beckoning us in.

We were created to love light, and it is at this time of year that I understand the most clearly why Isaiah, Zechariah and John described the coming of Christ this way:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. For behold, darkness covers the earth, and thick darkness is over the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you, and His glory will appear over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:1-3)

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” (Isaiah 9:2)

“…because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the Dawn will visit us from on high, to shine on those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)

The figurative darkness of our souls was once deeper than the darkest Arctic night, yet Jesus came into this world as LIGHT,

brighter than the floodlights down at the barge docks when they’re unloading at night,

brighter than the three story LED cross down the bay on our neighbor’s house,

yes, brighter even than the noonday sun fully unleashed—

and the darkness fled. There is no more reason to walk fearful in the shadows of sin and impending death, blindly groping, peering, stumbling…

because He came.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Flying

“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”—Albert Einstein

There are some decided advantages to having some firsts in life delayed until you’re well into adulthood. The best part is that for a few fleeting glorious minutes, you can experience a flashback to the sensation of pure childlike wonder. At least that was what it was like for me to fly for the first time at age 35.

If I thought about it too deeply, I would admit that it takes quite a bit of faith and trust to buckle yourself into the narrow seat of a 737, and believe that 130-170,000 pounds of steel, fuel and humans is going lift up into the air and soar to 40,000 feet above the clouds. Before 1903, you would have laughed at me for even suggesting the idea.

Now, as the engines began to roar and we taxied toward the runway, I looked around to see people already calmly reading books, taking naps and playing Scrabble as though what was about to happen was as ordinary an everyday occurrence for them as brushing their teeth and combing their hair. I was not afraid, either, having grown up a hundred years after the Wright brothers, in an era when safe and successful air travel is normalized. But this was still my first time, and what I was experiencing that no one else seemed to be was excitement.

When we rushed forward and the wheels lifted from the pavement, it was every bit as exhilarating as I’d ever imagined. There was a blissfully lightening sensation, as though we’d left our weight down on the ground instead of taking it with us. The sun was just setting, the blue evening clouds lying wispy over the Minneapolis terminal—and suddenly we were rising right through them. One minute we were beneath, for a split second we were passing through them, the next we were above. It was just close enough to dusk that the city lights twinkled just a little and winked at me as they faded out of sight. The sun was setting in a blaze of pink, and then we were chasing it to the west as we rose higher and higher, unwilling to let it go.

For over an hour and a half, I watched that sunset as we throttled through a thinner atmosphere at 500 MPH. It was the longest sunset I have ever watched in my life. Eventually, we started to lose the chase and I saw Venus blink sleepily on just above the final streak of fuchsia, then steadily shine brighter as the night turned from velvet blue to black. The clouds were thick dark cotton below us, but every once in a while, they parted and I caught sight of the miniscule lit grid of a town far, far below.

On ensuing flights over the course of the trip, the wonders only increased. I kept catching my breath, awed by how different and beautiful Earth looked from up so high.

I got to watch the sun rise at 40,000 feet, bathing the tops of the rain clouds a sea of perfect conch shell pink for miles beneath us. The clouds parted and I saw misty fjords, and a sea of snowy peaks. I saw the full moon sinking into the ocean. I saw the fine white line of a road carving the edge of a ridge, and a raft of massive logs that looked like a collection of toothpicks afloat on the sparkling sea. I saw geometric forms of fields, perfect squares and circles.

I saw massive cracks in the ice of great rivers and majestic forests looking like nothing more than a carpet of soft dark moss and billows of snow patterned like waves across the plains. I saw semi trucks moving like ants on freeways that looked like mere threads. I saw the tiniest toy barns that I could only barely identify as red. It was a whole new perspective on this giant spinning ball I call home.

The world in my mind has often tended to look more like the maps in the atlas on our book shelf, with political boundaries neatly surrounding pastel blocks of color. But up there, peering down in wonder out of my tiny window, I was reminded that what I was seeing from my bird’s eye view was a whole lot more accurate to what God sees. He sees the big picture in the actual rich earth toned palette He painted it, how each part fits and flows together seamlessly and meaningfully to create the gorgeous masterpiece ball of Earth.

He sees the pair of swans talking to themselves as they build their nest at the mouth of the unnamed creek that flows into Stone Axe Lake, which flows in Little Sand Lake and out into the Bowstring River, which flows into the Bigfork River, which flows into the Rainy River, which snakes its way all the way up to the Hudson Bay and empties into the Atlantic Ocean, which laps at the edges of Iceland and Florida and South Africa, and makes ice around the shores of Antarctica that melts into the Pacific which crashes its mighty waves against the rocks of Patagonia, kisses the warm shores of Mexico and carries the salmon up the fjords of Prince of Wales Island to spawn in the Thorne River.

He who pinched up the points of the mountain ranges, formed the oceans with the imprint of His thumb, carved the delicate calligraphy of the rivers with His pen, holds this whole spinning magnificent world in His hands. But the best part is that He can see all this in one swift glance, while at the same time, He zooms in and sees the sparrow that falls, and the state of my heart, and yours, and all the hearts of 7.8 billion human beings created in His image and running around like tiny ants on the surface of this globe—and He knows and longs after each one by name.

Up there in that silver plane with the blue stripes on its wings, I felt small in the best way possible, dwarfed by vast magnificence of the world, and in awe that I was of any account at all, let alone beloved by its Creator.

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:3-9)

Orange Blossom Special

IMG_5876.JPGOutside, on this sub-zero February day, a bitter wind is kicking billows of icy particles high into the sky and blasting them across the fields.  The snow is nearly up to the windowsills, and the icicles hang like a row of jagged teeth from the eaves.    It’s about as un-tropical a day as you could get this far from a Pole—but the fragrance that meets me when I walk out into the sun porch is straight from Florida.

For a minute, I’m disoriented and puzzled.   It’s the scent of spring and the promise of fruit, a distinct and heady fragrance.  It doesn’t match the snowy landscape outside my windows.  And then I see the orange tree.  I hadn’t even noticed the buds coming on over the last few days, but they’ve burst open and there’s no ignoring them now.  There, right up against the pane of mere glass separating it from the depths of winter, it’s breaking it’s own record for number of exquisite waxy white blossoms. IMG_9692 edit.jpgIMG_9703 edit.jpgI’ve owned the tree for several years, but in the past I’ve always moved it into our warmer living room area during the colder months, to avoid it taking a chill.  It seemed a considerate course of action for a plant of tropical origin.  Oddly though, the well-intentioned move always seemed to make it droop, and, well, frankly it’s just grown so big lately that it’s heavy and awkward.  So I finally decided to take a risk, try leaving it, and see what happened. 

Turns out, the extra sunshine the porch affords makes up for what it lacks in warmth, at least in this little tree’s estimation.  Or maybe it actually prefers a little chill, just like some of our neighbors who have voluntarily transplanted from the sunny south to the frozen north without regret.  At any rate, to my surprise, and in spite of regular icy drafts from the nearby exterior door opening and shutting multiple times a day as little people run in and out from playing in the snow, it has not only survived, but is actually thriving!

If I doubted it before, I could not possibly now.  It’s blossomed here and there in the past, but never like this.  The fragrance filling the room and wafting into the next is only eclipsed by the sight of it.  The beauty, seen and unseen, is breathtaking.IMG_3934 edit.jpgIt’s actually a pretty magnificent picture of what we Christ-followers are supposed to look, and (frankly!) smell like.

No, this isn’t an ad for orange blossom perfume.

It’s like this:

If Christ is present in your life, it’s a perfume you wear.  It’s breathtaking beauty springing forth in the life-giving light of the Son, a secret you couldn’t keep if you tried.  And to those around you, it’s like that sweet tropical fragrance that pervaded my senses before I could even identify it’s source.  The flowers couldn’t contain it.  The scent was pouring out, wafting, filling the air with abandon, a gift to my senses, an irresistible invitation to discover the source of such sweetness.

Ironically, just like my orange tree, the scent of Christ is undeterred in the face of iciest drafts and darkest wintery days of life, and actually?  It’s more distinct than ever:

When someone cuts you off in line, and you respond with kindness.

When you refuse to take an opportunity to speak ill of someone who has publicly wronged you.

When you respond to life’s frustrations with grace instead of impatience.

When you can grieve a loved one without losing hope.

When you forgive freely instead of holding a grudge…

…and the list goes on.

These aren’t things you can fake, like some science lab concocting chemical compounds to artificially fool people’s senses.  These aren’t things you can slap on, any more than you can get away with hanging an air freshener in your car expecting it to supersede the odor of spilled milk on a hot summer day.  You might be able to get away with artificial, spritzed-on fragrance for a little while, but not for long.  People know when it’s the real deal, because when these things are genuine, they exude from deep within, the exclusive, unique overflow of the abundance of His presence in our hearts, an irresistible invitation to the world around you to discover the source of such sweetness.

So, not to be rude—how are you smelling today?

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing…” (1 Corinthians 2:14-15)

Hoar Frost & Thoughts On Trust

If I’ve learned anything about trusting the Lord in my 35 years of life, it’s that I still have a lot to learn about trusting the Lord.

For some reason, whenever I come out on the backside of a trial, I am naïve enough to think that after having learned to trust God in that circumstance, I will surely have no difficulties with trusting Him in the future. But then along comes a different unexpected circumstance, and too often I am surprised by my lack of faith, as I find myself wildly groping about for all my self-made crutches, brainstorming secular solutions and free falling into anxiety.

Up rises the skeptic of my soul to question God yet again: You were big enough for that last problem I had, but are You really big enough for this one? Just in case You hadn’t noticed, it’s a new problem, Lord. This one’s extra hard and scary. Can You really handle it? Are You sure You don’t need help from me on this one?

It’s a question as old as Eden. Hath God really said? Can He really be believed? Does He really know what’s best? And too often I am swayed by these whispers of doubt, and bite hard into the apple of anxiety.

To recognize the echo of Eve in my soul is humbling.

By definition, trust requires one to let go, and by nature, we humans are tight-fisted. Trusting God means admitting that I don’t have it all together. That I’m not as self-sufficient as I liked to imagine. That I have lost control. That I lack wisdom. That behind the strong, capable exterior I may have projected, I am actually weak and needy.

There is a killing of pride and self that must occur when I make the decision to trust God, and no matter how you look at it, killing always hurts. And in the case of trust, it seems like it often has to happen more than once in a given situation. As Paul said, “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31), and as Jesus said, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24).

But there’s an encouraging side to this, too. Though letting go to lean into trust is always hard, it also gets easier. The more times I’ve peeled back the fingers of my white knuckled hold on whatever it is that I’m trying to handle on my own and can’t, the more times I have proven the goodness and mercy of God. The longer the list of times I have chosen to lean hard on Him instead of my self, the harder it is to resist doing it again.

When I look back, I remember…

that time He provided for my unspoken needs,

that time He moved a figurative mountain,

that time He gave grace to accept,

that time He gave a miracle,

that time He brought beauty from ashes,

that time when He transformed fear into anticipation,

that time He took away something that I did not recognize as harmful until after the fact,

that time He had far more beautiful things in store for me than I could ever have imagined.

The overriding truth is that, in each circumstance, no matter what the outcome, He was always faithful, and proved yet again that He was worthy of my trust.

Today, looking back on what has been proven and looking forward to what is yet unknown, I rest on the assurance that He is enough.

“…the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:6)

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” (Isaiah 26:3-4)

A Child Is Born

On Christmas Day 2019, with doting aunties and grandmas hovering round, my firstborn son turned two months old.  I’d spent the previous weeks nursing him beneath the lights of the Christmas tree, often twinkling over us in the wee hours when the rest of the household was slumbering.  And on those nights, as his little head nodded downy and drowsy down onto my shoulder, I thought a lot about the first Christmas.  I feel like I understand how it might have been for Mary so much better now because of him.

I had it all planned out, you know.  Our fourth child would be born peacefully at home, surrounded by the birthing professionals I had carefully chosen and built a relationship with over the last nine months.  The birthing pool was sitting in the living room, ready for the moment I told Zach, “It’s time!” to be filled, tiny cord clamps and other medical supplies waiting in a box nearby for the midwife’s arrival.  A pretty robe was hanging up, waiting for me to slip into after labor for first pictures with my new little one.  Our bedroom was clean and ready, tiny baby newborn-sized clothes laid out on the changing table, one small pile of pink and one small pile of blue, and a pile of neutral in between awaiting the big gender reveal.  My mom was ready to drop everything when the phone rang to come whisk our other children away until after the birth.IMG_5349 editI imagine that Mary had plans, too, those 2000 years ago.  She, too, probably envisioned her child being born in the comfort of her own home, perhaps assisted by the wise old midwife who had helped every baby in Nazareth enter the world for the last 40 years, her mother nearby to hold her hand and offer encouragement during the frightening pangs of her first labor.  The swaddling clothes were laid out next to the beautiful cradle her carpenter husband had crafted, and certainly, she had dreamed that the event would be at least nine months after her wedding day to her betrothed.  

But things didn’t go according to plan, mine or hers.IMG_5127 editFor me, what was supposed to be a trip into town for a routine prenatal turned into a trip to the hospital for induction after an unexpected diagnosis of preeclampsia.  We arrived weary, after midnight and a long evening of testing and being shuffled between towns and hospitals.  A doctor I had never seen before agreed to make room for me in her schedule because the situation was considered urgent.  The unexpected circumstances were such that I arrived with nothing but the clothes on my back and my purse.  No camera, no toiletries or changes of clothing, none of the small comforts and baby things I had so carefully arranged back home.  I gave birth in a borrowed gown, surrounded by more strangers than not, an awkward but necessary blood pressure cuff attached to my arm and the foreign sound of monitors beeping.  My firstborn son was wrapped in a hospital-issued swaddle instead of the little clothes sitting back at home.  He was laid in a rolling baby cart of stainless steel and plastic labeled “Baby Ender” instead of the wooden-spindled cradle under the window in my bedroom.IMG_5356 editFor Mary, the honor and wonder of being with child by the Holy Ghost looked unfortunately too much like a shameful out-of-wedlock birth to her neighbors.  She received snubs and nasty gossip instead of congratulations.  The wedding—after the fact—was very nearly called off.  Caesar Augustas in Rome did not take due dates into account when he ordered an empire-wide census.  A long, arduous trip kicked off labor.  They arrived weary in an unfamiliar town where they knew nobody, too late for a premium room at the inn.  They were stuck sleeping with animals on a night when she labored as a first-time mother, undoubtedly longing for comfort and familiarity more than any other night in her life.  If anyone assisted her in birth besides Joseph, it was certainly a stranger, pulled in at the last minute for the emergency.  A manger stood in for the hand-crafted cradle back home.

And yet in both of our cases, in spite of all the upset plans, the most important thing did go as planned:

A baby boy was pushed safely out into the world, opened his mouth with a healthy squall, and blinked his sleepy eyes to look up into his mother’s face for the very first time.  The pain was forgotten.  It didn’t matter who was there, or where we were, if there were monitors beeping or animals lowing.  All that mattered was that our child was born.IMG_5118 editAnd all was well, because God was there.

For me,

For Mary,

For you in whatever unplanned circumstances you didn’t ask for this year, like celebrating the holiday in isolation, sick in the hospital, or mourning the loss of a loved one.  God is with you.

Never forget that this is the true meaning of Christmas.IMG_5325 edit“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

On the Next Day of Winter…

IMG_0143 edit.jpgIn some places in the country, I’m seeing pictures of blossoming peach orchards, daffodils and greening grass.  On the first day of spring here, it snowed in the morning—and then a bitter wind spent the rest of the day kicking all that snow up into the air in great billowing clouds, forcing us to plow the driveway due to drifting.  If you live here, too, you’re not surprised or alarmed.  It’s a typical Minnesota weather move.

I made the mistake of announcing that it was the first day of spring to my children.  I meant it tongue in cheek, of course, but later in the day, they informed me that they had packed up all the ski boots and put them away in the basement.  “Whatever for?” I inquired in surprise, because cross country skiing has been something they’ve really enjoyed as recently as the day before.  “Because you said it was spring now, Mom!”  Oops.  So we had a little educational session on equinoxes and lengths of days, but they just looked at me, puzzled, as if to say, “Mom, everyone knows that spring is a temperature, not a day on the calendar.”

I was going to do a post entitled “First Day of Spring”, featuring pussy willows, which appeared during one fleeting warm spell a couple weeks ago.  But when I finally got out to take the pictures, what I got instead was this ironic juxtaposition of seasons.  I may have been taking pictures of pussy willows, but what it really felt like was just the next day of winter.IMG_0157 edit.jpgMuch as we’d sometimes like it to be, spring just isn’t a day on the calendar for us.  It’s no short, sweet announcement.  Instead, it’s a slow thing, that creeps up, teases, eludes.  But still, watching spring unfold, painfully slow but sure, gives me hope—which is something we all need a little bit more of right now.

All over the world, people are facing lockdowns, quarantines, alarming numbers of the ill and the dead mounting, economies teetering in uncertainty.  Everyone’s ready for it to be over with, but at this point it still looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better.  We cling to the hope that things are going to ease up eventually, but when?  People keep guessing, but the truth is, nobody really knows.  Watching for the end of this thing involves no set date on a calendar, much as we’d like it to.  It’s a whole lot more like living through March in Minnesota: when it feels like it should be the end of a long winter, but sometimes we just keep getting more snowstorms instead.IMG_0140 edit.jpg What we do know, however, is that winter always does end, and spring always does come, because the God who put the seasons into motion has promised that they will remain in steady motion as long as the earth shall endure.

“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22)

Sometimes it’s a little sooner, sometimes it’s a little later, but nobody ever wonders if.  Just when.  And the same God who keeps His promise to sustain the rhythm of seasons, has also given us these promises:

“…And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)IMG_0167 edit.jpgRemember: no matter how long this current trouble lasts, He is still in control and present in all these things.  Watch for Him at work, and you will surely see Him. 

Not when the trouble’s gone, but right there in the midst of the turmoil—

like the pussy willows budding resilient in the falling snow…

like the little ducks bravely coming back to paddle along the melting edges of icy creeks…

like the two patient white lumps posted on our frozen lake, splendid swans trumpeting in triumph as they patiently await the thaw.

Babies Don’t Keep

IMG_9991 edit.jpgI didn’t get out to walk as much as I normally like to this winter.  And for the first time in years, I didn’t even touch my skis, because by the time I got through postpartum recovery and felt up to getting on them again, the snow drifts were being measured in feet, not inches.  Even you avid skiers know how daunting breaking a trail through that is!

This is all the fault, of course, of a certain cute snuggly little guy who likes to hang out with (onto) me a lot lately.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t have hard feelings about it.  If you’ve ever had the privilege of being graced by one of his ready smiles, or gotten to rest your cheek on his downy head, well, then you know what I’m talking about.  He was worth it, and hey, running up and down the stairs to wash extra loads of baby laundry is exercise, too, right?  But it did mean that I didn’t take as many nature pictures.

Winter photography isn’t easy.  The days are shorter, the light dimmer and fleeting.  With so many of the living, moving things in hibernation, hidden beneath the snow, finding interesting subjects requires extra effort.  That being said, I truly enjoy the way winter photography challenges and stretches my creativity, and this year, I missed the way it always renews my appreciation for the quiet beauty of the season.IMG_9711 edit.jpgBut circumstances are never an excuse for failing to find joy.

So when I was looking wistfully at my untouched ski boots, or watching the light fall across the fields in a photogenic way that I wouldn’t be running out to capture as I have in the past, instead of giving into impatience or frustration, I learned to intentionally shift my mindset in two ways.

The first was to gain a deeper appreciation for what I was restricted from doing, realizing how often I have taken freedoms, hobbies and privileges for granted.  When you’re missing something, it’s not okay to complain and give in to discontentment, but it IS okay to remember it with pleasure, acknowledge it’s value, and be grateful for it in a way you probably haven’t been before.  

And the second?  To be fully appreciative of and present in the fleeting circumstances that created this restriction, because babies don’t keep.  To relish the snuggles instead of wishing away the nighttime feedings.  Winter will come again, but my son will never be this little again.  The dimpled fists clinging to my shirt are going to stretch out into the strong lean hands of a man, the chubby round cheeks I love to kiss are going to turn to manly stubble, the coos are going to turn into sentences, the giggles to guffaws.  The days of him squealing when I peek over the edge of his cradle in the morning, or his downy little head nodding to sleep on my shoulder are numbered.IMG_9771 edit.jpgAnd I learned to really savor few opportunities I did have to snap a photo.  These were taken while…

Hauling the camera along to the chicken coop to get a shot of the beautifully frosted windows while collecting eggs.

Rolling down the car window on the way to town to grab a shot of frosted pine branches.

Pausing for a quick photograph of the icicles above my head while airing my tires at the gas station.

On a rare walk, spotting the tracks of the multiple coyotes who had yapped in the field the night before.IMG_9743 edit.jpgIMG_9988 edit.jpgThere are a lot of parallels here to the strange times we’re living in right now.  A pandemic is weird, strange and scary, and we’re all feeling the effects of it one way or another.  We’re chafing because we can’t go places when we want to.  We’re missing people and faces and fellowship.  We’re disappointed at cancellations and postponements.  We miss the days when you didn’t feel like you were hazarding your life and everyone else’s every time you walk into the grocery store.  We’d really like to have a normal conversation again that didn’t contain the words mask, CDC or quarantine.

But circumstances are never an excuse for failing to find joy.

I hope that, instead of giving way to impatience and frustration at the unusual out-of-our-control limitations put on us this year, we can look for the good when it all seems bad.  That we can be more grateful for the freedom we had before, and not take it for granted when it returns.  That we can be intentional about using all that extra time at home.  That we can more creative, less apathetic.  That we can appreciate the opportunity to build stronger relationships with immediate family members, and the blessed simplicity of being forced to slow down.  That we can learn to value the right things, and put less value on the things that don’t really matter.IMG_9972 edit.jpgNormal life will return eventually, but while you’re waiting, don’t miss the unique gifts and blessings that God may have for you during this pandemic.  When we look back on 2020 in years to come, let’s be grateful that we learned new good lessons and lived this strange and memorable year well, instead of regretful that we spent it chafing for it to end.

“For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

 

The New and the Old

IMG_7295 editI always enjoy spending the first few weeks of a new year reflecting back on the old.  I read through the my journals and scroll through the pictures I took, reminding myself of what I’ve learned and experienced over those 365 days.  I note the highlights and the lowlights, what was the same and what was different, what was new and what was old—and this is what I found for 2019:

There were wonderful old things—

Old friends to catch up with…

The faithful, breathtaking repetition of seasons…

Old favorite vacation spots from our childhoods, revisited with our own children…

Time-worn traditions and celebrations honored once again…IMG_7921 editAnd not-so-exciting old things—

The same old piles of dirty dishes every day…

Bigger quantities of the same old cycle of laundry: wash, dry, fold, put away, repeat…

Vehicles aging, old parts needing replaced…

Old habits struggling to be broken…

But in the midst of all the old, the good and the bad, His mercies were new.  Fresh, marvelous and breathtaking every day, breathing life and purpose and wonder into the sameness and drudgery of life.img_3173 editThere were also wonderful new things—

New faces to become friends with…

New recipes tried, new books read…

New ways I was challenged and uplifted spiritually…

A new baby to carry, birth and nurture…IMG_4074 editAnd not so fun new things—

New goodbyes to be said this side of heaven…

New-to-me levels of sickness and health issues, and need for help as I went through them…

New things to forgive and be forgiven for.

But in the midst of all this, the good and the bad, His mercies were old.  Not old and worn out, but old and timeless and sure.  Unchanging, firm, and the same, an untold comfort in the midst of change and uncertainty.IMG_4063 editAnd now I’m three weeks into another new year,

days adding to days without stopping to wait while I reflect,

already colored by the un-calculated quantities of baby spit up on my shirt, giant snow storms and unexpected events.

And I’m here to say that I’m already discovering that the same old story from last year is on repeat in the new:  His mercies are new every morning and great is His faithfulness.  May you discover the same, in abundance, in the upcoming year!IMG_3148But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:  The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,“therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:21-24)

P.S. Featured here are a few odd pictures that I never got around to using from 2019!  Also, I know I’ve been absent from this space for awhile, but I’ve had good reason in the form of one tiny adorable little man who arrived to change the landscape of our family forever in October.  To those of you who have inquired with such kind interest as to the future state of this blog:  Thank you for your patience as I’ve taken a long break from here to focus fully on adjusting to life as a family of six.  Lord willing, I do hope to get back to more writing and photography as this new season permits!  Meanwhile, you’ll find me taking baby portraits and writing in his baby book about first smiles and that time he slept eight hours….

 

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)