Savoring Summer #40: Indian Pipe

IMG_2011 edit.jpg“The report of your obedience has reached everyone.  Therefore I rejoice over you…” (Romans 16:19)

Oh, that this would be the reputation of every church that represents Jesus Christ!

P.S. See this original post for info about this photo challenge and more about this reading plan I’m using this summer for the book of Romans (and I’d love to have you join in!)

About the photo:  This might get the prize for weirdest plant find of the summer.  Read more about it here!

Savoring Summer #34: Sunny Leaves

IMG_1471 edit.jpg“The commandments, Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet; and any other commandment, are summed up by this commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.  Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:9-10)

Looking back over what I’ve read in Romans this last week, there was SO many wonderful passages.  But this is one that stood out to me, because it spoke to specific situations I was watching unfold, in which good-hearted, well-intentioned people were using their feelings to justify the condoning of sin.

There’s a lot of confusion out there about the meaning of the word “love”.  There’s confusion about what “love your neighbor as yourself” means.  Many people, riding on the wave of their own personal subjective emotions, conclude that loving one another means that feelings  (“love”) trump “the law” (by which we mean what God clearly states in His Word as right or wrong).  But here, it’s clearly stated: love does not cancel out the law, nor does the law negate the command to love.  Instead, they walk hand in hand to FULFILL each other.

If you’re reading along with me, were there any verses that specifically spoke to you this last week?

P.S. See this original post for info about this photo challenge and more about this reading plan I’m using this summer for the book of Romans (and I’d love to have you join in!)!

Savoring Summer #21: Field of Flowers

IMG_1627 edit

Memory verse: “But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

The third step on the Romans Road is the solution to the problem.

P.S. See this post if you’re unfamiliar with the Romans Road!  Also, see this original post for info about this photo challenge and more about this reading plan I’m using this summer for the book of Romans (and I’d love to have you join in!)!

About the photo: I have never seen the fields near our house as completely covered in flowers as they are this year—and other people are saying it, too, so I know I’m not imagining it.

Savoring Summer #18: Chasing Rainbows

IMG_1770 edit“For all those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons.

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!”

The Spirit himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ—if indeed we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:14-17)

Just meditating today on the beauty of THIS!

P.S. See this original post for info about this photo challenge and more about this reading plan I’m using this summer for the book of Romans (and I’d love to have you join in!)!

Savoring Summer #13: At the Edge of the Wetlands

IMG_1451 edit“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We have also obtained access through him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

And not only that, but we also boast in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. 

This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)

As I meditated over what I read over the last week, I came back to this passage and, again, couldn’t get away from the beauty of it.  I tried to pick out one verse of these five to share here, but I couldn’t.  The whole section is SO good, and it’s just meant to be all together for a complete picture of the triumph of faith.  

If you’re reading along with me through Romans, what passage was YOUR highlight of the week?  I’d love for you to share in the comments!

P.S. See this original post for info about this photo challenge and more about this reading plan I’m using this summer for the book of Romans (and I’d love to have you join in!)!

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)

 

South Dakota Adventure: Seeing It Through Their Eyes

IMG_7164 editWe’d seen them before, my husband and I.  The weird eroded shapes of the badlands.  Four massive solemn faces carved into a granite mountainside.  A herd of buffalo calmly holding up traffic.  Bighorn sheep leaping effortlessly up the faces of seemingly sheer precipices.  But oddly, seeing them for the second time seemed more meaningful to me than the first—and it was all because of three little people strapped in the back seats behind us.IMG_6733 editIMG_7518 editIMG_7806 edit

IMG_7533 editNow, don’t get me wrong.  Traveling with small children can indeed sometimes feel like one endless string of potty and snack breaks.  Some of the finer details of travel are inevitably lost on them.  Their favorite restaurant of the trip was the one that offered a package of goldfish crackers as a side on the kids’ menu instead of the one where they got to sample real rattlesnake sausage.  At the rock shop they were more interested in the cheap mood ring display than the gorgeous native rose quartz.  Sometimes dad and mom’s idea of a “fun” hike turned out more like a rather painful lesson in perseverance.  Or there was that time when we were driving through a magnificent canyon for the first time, and all they could comment on was, “Look!  There’s a blue truck!”

But the real reason we chose to travel with children was summed up in that moment when we first rounded a curve to see Mount Rushmore in the distance.  The collective childish gasp of amazement from the back seat made every tedious hour across the endless plains worthwhile.  The three-year-old was as enthralled as the seven-year-old, and spent the rest of our vacation scaling every rock in sight to pose and claim that she was now “George Lincoln”.IMG_7016 editIMG_6995 editIt was for them that we drove the wildlife loop at Custer State Park three times, just to hear them ooh and aah at the sight of several hundred bison moving down a valley en masse and squeal when the wild burros came lipping at our windows in hopes of handouts.  It was to laugh aloud every time the three-year-old shouted, “I see a cantaloupe!  I see a cantaloupe!” (any guesses what she was referring to?  Clue: it wasn’t fruit.).  It was to share their thrill each time a prairie dog popped up out of his hole and listen to them laugh with delight to see the young bighorn sheep leaping as confidently along the mountain crags as their parents.

We had seen it all before, but there was something wonderful about experiencing it anew through their eyes.IMG_7584 edit.jpgIMG_7578 edit.jpgIMG_6951 editIMG_6968 edit.jpgIMG_7838 editIMG_7452 edit.jpgIMG_7471 edit.jpgIMG_7854 editThe wonder continued when we visited the world’s largest collection of live reptiles.  We watched our littlest girl’s eye’s practically pop out of her head at the sight of a massive anaconda.  We looked together for loose tiny geckos running around in the conservatory, and gasped with them to find an (uncontained!) snake hanging in a tree over our heads.  We felt their excitement as they got to pet baby alligators and giant tortoises.  We laughed with them at the parrot who could meow like a kitten.

And I thought to myself: Wow! This place is way more fun than I remember as a teenager.  Had it changed that much?  No.  It was just me that had changed.  I was seeing the same blue frogs and cobras, but this time as a mother through the eyes of my children—and that made all the difference.IMG_7180 editIMG_6894 editIMG_6930 editIMG_7091 editOn this trip, I though a lot about what Jesus meant when He said: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

There’s more than one aspect to “becoming like children”, but I think most of it can be summed up with the word simplicity.   And I don’t mean simple as in “dumb”; I mean simplicity in the sense of pure and uncomplicated. 

Simplicity in faith. 

Simplicity in love. 

Simplicity in obedience.

Simplicity in wonder.

IMG_7056 edit

Fall Color Tour 2018

IMG_1890 editThe leaves are changing, they said way too early in August—and they were right.  It started with a premature crimson splash here and there.  But soon the green of summer was transitioning full speed to yellow, orange, brown and crimson of autumn.  Fall was here.

It was a pleasant change, everyone agreed.  While there’s some debate about summer and winter, almost everyone I know likes fall.  No more sweltering heat.  No more weeding the garden.  No more mosquitoes.  There’s apple cider, favorite sweaters, the way the air smells, fires that feel cozy again.  We take slow drives down country roads to enjoy the daily-evolving color show. The piles we rake up in yards are better, in my kids’ opinion, than a MacDonald’s ball pit.  We press the most gorgeous leaf specimens between book pages to treasure.  What’s not to love?

Things are not quite so spectacular from the leaves’ point of view, though.  They turn gorgeous colors, sure, and receive more admiration at this time of year than during any other season—but the reality is that their doom is imminent.  As the crimson leaches down to their tips, their connection to their mother tree deteriorates and loosens.IMG_1991 edit.jpgIMG_2009 editIMG_1986 edit.jpgI drive down the road in a windstorm, and a rainbow of leaves swirls down from the sky like confetti.  This is their fate.  Magical to me, the end of life for them.

For them the change means letting go, falling, fading, shriveling, crumbling, crushing, eventually composting away into anonymity on the forest floor.  It is perhaps not quite so pleasant described thus, because none of us like those kind of changes either.  We all prefer the celebrating kinds, the weddings, new babies and job promotions.  Anything to do with rotting?  Not so much.

There are changes we seek, and changes we don’t.  Sometimes we get to pick the form of change, sometimes we have absolutely no choice in the matter.  Sometimes it comes sooner than we want, or much later than we’d longed for.  Sometimes we embrace it, run to it in gladness or relief.  Sometimes we fight it long and hard in vain.  Sometimes changes are slow, over time, barely perceptible.  Sometimes they are sudden and earth-shaking.  Sometimes change is short-term.  Sometimes it’s permanent.IMG_2544.JPGIMG_2383 editIMG_2004 editElusive as change is to nail down, however, there’s one sure thing about it, and it’s that change is as inevitable to life as autumn is to the circle of seasons.  It will come.  And sometimes that’s a fearful thing to us humans who like to map out our yearly planners months in advance and make our tidy little five, ten and twenty-year plans for success.  Even joyful changes can create stress by throwing off schedules.

That’s why serving a God who is unchanging is so incredibly wonderful and comforting.  I can’t guarantee you whether the next change in your path is going to be hard or happy, but I’d like to remind you today that though all may change around you, you have a Friend who NEVER will—and that’s a promise.IMG_1992 edit.jpg“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

A is for Acorn

IMG_1583I’ve been a bit missing in action for the last month or two, and for those of you who haven’t guessed, it’s all due to a bit of a recent career shift.  From here on out, if my posts start to sounding to you like those of a kindergarten teacher, you will be correct.  It’s an exciting new chapter for us, but a busy one, with lots of adjustments to new schedules and more time spent researching literature and art projects for unit studies than composing blog posts.  I hope to get back to posting more often eventually, but we’ll see!

Of course, I’ve always been my child’s teacher; that comes with the territory of parenting, as it does for every mother.  Who else will teach her how tie her shoes or to look both ways before crossing the road?  But choosing to be the one who also teaches her I-before-E-except-after-C (except for in a few odd cases, as I’ve been reminded!) and why mushrooms grow on trees, to take the full weight of responsibility for what the world calls her formal education, is another realm altogether.IMG_1491IMG_1464.JPGIt makes sense: who else in the whole world cares more about her success than I do?

It’s exciting: learning is an adventure I’ve always loved, and I can hardly wait to take her along to all manner of new and thrilling places.

It’s serious business: it will be my fault if some vital branch of learning isn’t covered.

That’s why my husband and I agreed that a few days retreat was in order for the teacher before this all officially commenced.  A working retreat, in which to lay out lesson plans and familiarize myself with workbooks, yes, but also to recharge myself for the important task ahead.

And the first thing I did along that order?  Take a hike.IMG_1527IMG_1449I sensed, going into the retreat, that my ideas were good but jumbled.  If you know anything about the world of home education, you know that the amount of resources available are both incredible and rather overwhelming.  I needed some vision to narrow my focus down from all those fabulous options to what would work best for us—and I always think most clearly while walking.  And if the walk winds through sun-dappled woodlands around the edge of a sparkling blue lake?  If there’s not a sound to be heard but the crunching of leaves beneath your feet and the wind in the oak tree tops?  All the better.

I took a book along, and on a short break, sitting in the warm grass with my back against a sturdy oak, I read these inspiring lines:

“Little by little,” an acorn said,
As it slowly sank in its mossy bed,
“I am improving every day,
Hidden deep in the earth away.”IMG_1469Little by little, each day it grew;
Little by little, it sipped the dew;
Downward it sent out a thread-like root;
Up in the air sprung a tiny shoot.

Day after day, and year after year,
Little by little the leaves appear;
And the slender branches spread far and wide,
Till the mighty oak is the forest’s pride.

IMG_1457IMG_1506IMG_1517“Little by little,” said a thoughtful boy,
“Moment by moment, I’ll well employ,
Learning a little every day,
And not spending all my time in play.
And still this rule in my mind shall dwell,
Whatever I do, I will do it well.IMG_1542“Little by little, I’ll learn to know
The treasured wisdom of long ago;
And one of these days, perhaps, we’ll see
That the world will be the better for me”;
And do you not think that this simple plan
Made him a wise and useful man?”—Author Unknown

The acorns rolled under my feet as I hiked on, and the seed of vision had been planted that I was looking for.  Jumbled ideas melded into a plan in my head, and far-sighted goals broke down into the steps A, B and C that would get us there.

It was in honor of the role this poem played in my lesson planning process, that “A is for Acorn” was chosen as the topic of study for our very first week of school.  For my students, it would look like nature hikes to identify oak trees, and making leaf rubbings, and listening to delightful stories about squirrels who love acorns.  We would find out what acorns tasted like and learn about famous oaks of long ago.

But for I, the teacher, it would be an inspiring reminder that the great task I was beginning would be accomplished just like that of a humble acorn becoming a mighty tree: little by little.  Letter by letter, number by number, line by line, book by book, concept building on concept, my young students would put down foundational roots, reach for the sky, and grow strong and mighty into a wealth of skill, wisdom and knowledge.  And for what?  The goal of the poem seems quite adequate to me, that the world will be a better place for having them in it.IMG_1499“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

 

Did you know?

…that multiple people groups consider acorns a delicacy (Korean, Greek, Native American)?

…that acorns have frequently been used as a substitute for coffee?

…that the name of the nut is derived from the Gothic word akran, which means “fruit of the unenclosed land”?

…that one of the greatest visionary statements of the Old Testament was made beneath an oak tree?  Read about it in Joshua 24.

“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD!” (Joshua 24:15)