I now interrupt regular Alaska reporting to bring you this special news bulletin from the opposite side of the country…North Carolina!
This month, I had the privilege of taking a rare solo trip cross-country to meet my first little niece and visit my sister Havala and her husband Andrew for the first time since they got married and she moved out east. I am so grateful that my husband who was willing to hold down the fort with four kids, taking over my responsibilities while also keeping up with his own job for a week and a half, so I could go. I’m also thankful for our church family here who pitched in to help him with babysitting and meals in my absence—what a blessing they are to us!
The time that it worked out for me to go also happened to be peak color time where they live in the Blue Ridge Mountains. What a happy coincidence! It was a riot of glorious autumn color, and I shamelessly joined all the other “peepers” (yep, the locals have a specific nickname for the fall leaf tourists) to gawk at the beauty.
We spent a lovely Sunday afternoon driving up the Blue Ridge Parkway for a picnic and a hike, where I took the majority of these photos. Honestly, though, I spent more time taking pictures of the cutest little niece you ever did see, and making a fool of myself talking baby talk because it would make her smile and coo. I’ll leave most of those pictures for her mama and papa to share as they wish, but I’ll just drop this one here. You get the idea.
I learned how to grade eggs for their egg business while I was there, and enjoyed experiencing a bit of Southern culture, like sweet tea, chicken and biscuits, pimento cheese sandwiches and being called “honey darlin'” by perfect strangers. I even got to sit in a brick church with a 200-year history and listen to an entire sermon preached in Southern drawl. Our long conversations, often late into the night, about God and babies and marriage and the state of the world and life in general, were my favorite, though. These times with family are all the sweeter now that they are so rare, and all the richer for our common bond in Christ. The whole visit was a gift of true rest and refreshment for me—and I’m so grateful!
“We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.” (Psalm 55:14)
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.I 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.For 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.For 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.And all was well, because God was there.
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.“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)
I’m sure it will come as a surprise to no one that my days this summer have been a lot less about taking photos of nature and writing about them, and a lot more about taking photos of a certain darling little lady and writing in my journal about her first smiles or the first time she slept through the night.
But in between the midnight feedings and uncounted numbers of diapers changed, I still watch for the beauty outdoors, even if it’s only through the windows while I’m pacing through the house in an effort to soothe her cries on a fussy day. I don’t see many exotic things, but I do see the way the morning dew is glistening on the clematis or the way the light falls warm and soft across the field grass just before the sun sets—and these bits of loveliness are things that have fed my soul on days that adjusting to life with three small children under my care is a little on the overwhelming side.
The other thing that has fed my soul lately is the book of Psalms which we’ve been reading through, one a day at breakfast time—and chapter 36 is one of my recent favorites. May these excerpts from it, accompanied by these glimpses of my summer, feed your soul, too.“How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings…They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights…For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” (Psalm 36:7-9)
This week, our resident swan pair debuted their newest brood of offspring, parading them very proudly all the way around the lake (for all the neighbors to see, I presume). There are six cygnets, which might be their all-time record for family size!
There is a shy doe at the edge of the field, who acts very nervous whenever we come near. I know there’s a tiny fawn hiding in the swampy raspberry thicket beyond where she lingers, though we have yet to actually see him.
After three known unsuccessful attempts (including inside the exhaust pipe of my husband’s truck), last year’s swallows have finally settled on a place to build a new nest. Incidentally, it’s in the exact same place as they built the last one. Silly birds.
A mother rabbit went bounding off from my parent’s garden when I was visiting there earlier this week, scared by the dog. She left this wee cutie, with brown eyes almost as big as his ears, crouched obediently close to the ground. He didn’t move a muscle, even when I took this picture:It’s been baby time everywhere we look outside lately—and then, finally, at 6:45, just after the pearly gray dawn of a Wednesday morning, it was our turn.
A tiny baby voice cried out for the first time in the little house on the edge of a lake, while outside in the gentle rain the swan family paddled softly through the lily pads in search of breakfast and the swallows twittered busily around their almost-finished nest.
“A woman has pain in childbirth because her time has come; but when she brings forth her child, she forgets her anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.” (John 16:21)
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.“ (Psalm 30:5)
Photographing wildlife is all about three essential things: 1) being in the right place, 2) at the right time, 3) with a camera in hand. Any two components without the third = no picture. I must admit that the times when I’ve had all three work out at once have been rare. But they’ve been all the more exciting as a result—and these two photos are some of my favorite examples.
If you look closely at the first photo, you’ll see it’s really an action shot—that’s a pretty mama doe nursing her fawn, eyeing me warily even across the field. This was shot from my car window, on a day when I just randomly happened to have my camera in the seat right next to me.
And the second photo was a breathtaking close-up chance encounter in a wild raspberry bramble. I was out walking, camera in hand for a wildflower shoot, and came upon this little one’s mama suddenly, sending her leaping frightened off into the woods. This little guy was probably not more than a day old, still wobbly on his feet, but he followed the instructions she left to the letter: he dropped to the ground and didn’t move a muscle even when I stepped a little bit closer to take his portrait.
The lesson here is that one should always be ready for the unexpected.
As in, never leave the house without a camera.
Or in other vastly more important ways like this:
“Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:44)
(For more information and instructions on how to be ready for Him, read the whole chapter and the following one as well!)
I came suddenly upon a family of Canada geese crossing our driveway the other day. Almost all of the goslings hurried off as fast as their little legs could take them into the field grass, following their mother who led the way to safety honking wildly in alarm. But this little fellow seemed to have an independent streak and I imagine he’s the child who has given his poor mother the most gray hairs—er, feathers.
Off he went foolishly running in the opposite direction from his family, right down the center of the driveway in front of me. I was fortunate enough to have my camera at the ready, and of course, since his legs were very short and he had hardly any wings to speak of, he was no match for me. I easily caught up with him and snapped a portrait of the wayward little guy before shooing him off to where his mother and siblings were calling for him at a safe distance away. Silly goose! Good thing I was just an appreciative human with a camera and not a hungry wolf, or that would have been the end of him.As I watched him go, I was reminded of this passage in Isaiah:
“All we…have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way…”
Good thing for us the verse doesn’t stop there, or that would have been the end of us, too!
“…and the Lord hath laid on Him [Christ] the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)
We have foolishly wandered, but He has provided a way to safety anyway. How unworthily blessed we are!