Stand Still and See

IMG_8295.JPGIf you walk out into the middle of the woods and stand very still for a while, a very delightful thing will happen.

The forest will slowly come alive around you. You may have thought it was alive before that, but the truth is, you haven’t actually experienced the half of it.

First, you will become more distinctly aware of the sounds of the more extroverted creatures of the woods.  A woodpecker beating sharp staccato, the twittering of newly-returned robins, the distant honking of geese.

But keep waiting, because there is more to come.

After a few minutes, a grouse will drum on a nearby log.  A stick will crack in the woods, then another, as the cautious deer who froze at the sound of your footsteps decides it’s safe to move on.  And then will begin the rustling in the leaves, and you will realize that it is not the breeze at play, but squirrels and mice and tiny birds.

As your ears become more attuned, your eyes will also become more aware of details.

You’ll realize that there’s delicate frost from a chilly spring morning lacing the strawberry leaf by your feet that you very nearly trampled.IMG_8293 You’ll note a tiny clump of British soldier lichen clinging to the edge of a mossy stump that would have only registered “green” in hurried passing.IMG_8300-1.jpgYou’ll tip your head up and see the beginning of the swelling red of the maple buds overhead, fanned against the sky.IMG_8283.JPGYou’ll notice the delicate lacy veins of last year’s leaves, splendidly illuminated in the morning sunlight, and also the way a certain flap of simple birch bark is catching the sun just right to make it glow.IMG_8290IMG_8286.JPGYour eyes will follow the slant of a fallen log down to a hole and, well, look!  The very culprit of the rustling himself appears.IMG_8311There is no shortcut to the gifts that come from being still, but they are always incredibly, beautifully worth it.  And, incidentally?  The same is said for the soul and the best gift one could ever ask for.

“Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD.” (Exodus 14:13)

No doing.  No striving.  Just simple, trusting, expectant stillness.

Frosted

IMG_7147.JPGWhen I was a young, aspiring baker, my mother taught me how to frost cookies and cakes.  It’s an experience that I remember with striking clarity because, in her kitchen, not just any frosting job would do.  Frosting (the verb, not the noun) was not merely a job to get done.  It was an art form.

We started with the least fussy of surfaces, a simple 9×13 cake.  She taught me how to spread the frosting evenly, thick to the edges but not quite touching the sides of the pan, never letting your knife touch the actual cake.  If you did it right, there was this beautifully rounded smooth edge to the whole sweet mass.  Then, you went back over the whole thing and made rows of dips or swoops, evenly but quickly so it didn’t look like you tried too hard.  If you did that part right, it looked as effortless and beautiful as the wind-tossed waves of sun-kissed lake.  If you didn’t—well, let’s just say that’s what my first attempts looked like.

From there we graduated to different surfaces, different kinds of frosting.  Whipped cream allowed the greatest abandon of perfection, and was great fun—but one still had to fuss with it a bit, because it still needed to look artsy.  Meringue was where deeper dips were needed to create the desired peaks; extra points if those peaks curled at the tips.  Glaze required wrist flicking, and the artful contriving of “even” drips all around.

Shaped sugar cookies were the final test of my basic skills, and true sign that I was about to graduate.  The technique was just like a cake, only applied with the tippiest-tip of a butter knife, maintaining that smooth rounded edge all around varied curves that included the narrow length of gingerbread arms and complicated crystaled forms of snowflakes.  You never scraped you knife on the edge of a cookie.  That was what the edges of the frosting bowl were for.

Once I’d mastered that, you’d think I’d arrived—but not so!  That’s when I started poring over her folder full of Wilton cake decorating books.  I’d hover around the table with my siblings, watching with fascination as my mom turned the sides of a layer cake into a woven basket and created three-dimensional roses on the end of a giant nail for our picture-perfect birthday cakes.  It was time to advance to a whole new level.IMG_7113.JPGIMG_7130IMG_7128IMG_7135IMG_7109.JPGOn mornings when I wake up to a frosted world, I can’t help thinking back to what it was like learning to frost.  I enjoyed learning, but mastering the techniques certainly didn’t happen overnight.  This refined coating of a thousand minute crystals deposited by a sudden drop in temperature, on the other hand, does.

I love how God makes something we have to work so hard to do right look so stunningly effortless.

“He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes.” (Psalm 147:16)

Frost Fire

IMG_6324.JPGThere’s a new year rising, about ready to break over the horizon just like the sun was on this breathtakingly frosty morn.

What will it hold?

Naturally, not one of us can predict exactly.  We can talk, dream of and discuss plans, goals and resolutions until the clock strikes midnight—but no one really knows what will happen.  This we do know, however:

“Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16:3)

Because of that, just as the hoary treetops turned to fire, aflame with the hope and oncoming glory of the new day, this new year can be bright with hope on your horizon, too.  No matter what it holds, if we acknowledge Him each step of the way—be it exciting, ordinary or difficult—He will make our path straight.  Cling to that!

Farewell, Golden Autumn

img_8161This was a November unmatched for beauty, as autumn lingered gloriously long—and these are the quintessential pictures of it in my mind.

The landscape awash in rich browns and golds…img_8002the rustle of drying grasses in the gentle breeze as the sunlight gilded it all to royalty…IMG_8121.JPG the frosty mornings…img_7920img_7911followed by warm and golden days…img_8119But kind as it’s been to us, November is still a month of transitions as it must be, a split personality, if you will, bridging the gap between autumn and winter—and “they say”, whoever they may be, that the time of the inevitable change is at hand.  There’s a winter storm warning for the weekend, and it’s time to finish that project of putting small girls’ mittens on strings that I’ve been putting off because we just haven’t needed them yet.

So, gladly anticipating the approach of a new season and a world of white on its way, I take a moment to bid one last adieu to autumn.  It’s been lovely—see you next year!

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

(And the seasons in between—and I’m grateful!)


Save

Frost

IMG_1611 editIMG_1616 editIt was one of those mornings when the sun rises and the whole outside world is awash in a million sparkles.

From the cozy warmth of my kitchen, that’s a sight breathtaking enough to enjoy even from a distance.

But then I decided to take the time to pull on my snow boots and my warmest jacket and those not-very-warm but better-than-nothing picture-taking gloves, go out into it and zoom in close with a lens.

And I found this, that the sparkles on every blade and branch and fence post were a myriad of tiny delicate fern-like ice formations.  Miniature ice art of unimaginable beauty coated everything in every direction as far as the eye could see.  I quickly forgot the cold as I wandered along the garden and out into the hay field, marveling at the wonderland of beauty.

The idea that a little man named Jack Frost is responsible for all this is a charmingly imaginative one—but when I’m catching my breath at the mind-boggling intricacy of it all, I’m glad to remember that there is a very deliberate Artist behind it all who is no figment of the imagination.

“Out of whose womb comes the ice? and the hoary frost of heaven, who brings it forth?…by the breath of God frost is given.”  (Job 38:29, 37:10)

IMG_1608 editIMG_1604 editMy breath is only freezing in pale, unexciting puffs of white, which annoyingly fog up the viewfinder of my camera.  But look what His breath does on a cold morning.  Wow.