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.

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….

 

Spring Ice

IMG_8231 editEveryone around here seems to have spent the last couple months and weeks waiting eagerly for the ice to break up.  And by “everyone around here”, I mean us and our feathered neighbors.

The swans have been patiently spending their days here for almost two months now, two faithful white lumps out on the ice standing guard over their nesting grounds.  The eagles began checking in next, periodically soaring in to keep tabs on the status of the frozen mass obscuring their fishing grounds.  Then the geese arrived, honking in and out (far less devoted than the swans), and the ducks, squeezing in to paddle around the tiny puddles opening up along the edges. 

And finally, just yesterday, the loons arrived with their wildly haunting calls.  They never show up until there’s a long enough runway open for their lengthy takeoffs, so it this was the surest sign yet that ice out was imminent.  IMG_4490 edit.jpgIMG_8325 editToday, there’s a giant pancake of ice floating out on the lake, and around it’s edges, the waves are moving again for the first time since November.  The wind is shifting it from one side to the other, slowly crushing, consolidating and wearing away at the ragged edges.  I’m watching it recede before my eyes as the day wears on.  In a day or two, or maybe even by morning, it will be gone. 

I can feel the exuberance of the waterfowl in my own soul as I watch the lake come alive after it’s long winter’s sleep.  I, too, have missed the twinkle of sunny waves through the shoreline trees, the soothing movement of the ripples reflecting the colors of the sky, the energy of the waves driving before the wind, and the smooth glimmer of its liquid mirror on still evenings.  I think I am surely just as happy as they to know that the reward of our mutual long and hopeful wait is right around the corner.

But I wasn’t worried that it would come, because the promises of God are always true to those who wait for them.  That goes for the change of seasons, as well as a lot of other things too numerous to list here now.  It’s good to remind ourselves of that, especially right after Easter.  The story isn’t finished yet!

“Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:28)

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

 

Muddy

IMG_7564.JPGIt’s the current miry state of the driveway.

I prefer it in the mornings like this, when it’s iced over and covered in interesting geometric designs.  Not only is it more photogenic, but my walking shoes prefer the feel of crunching to oozing and the state of being dry to damp.

My children, however, like it best after it’s sat in the sunshine for a while, all delightfully wet and squishy.  This would be why mud boots are an essential part of their spring wardrobes.  Not that I am so naive as to believe that mud boots will actually keep small children enjoying a mud puddle dry or clean—but I derive some comfort from the fact that at least their feet are.IMG_7641.JPGThe rest?  Nothing a good washing machine and bathtub can’t fix.  And that’s a good reminder to praise God for this even more remarkable truth:

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols… (Ezekiel 36:25)

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. (Psalm 40:1-2)

 

 

 

A Sparkling Performance

img_7343-e1518823912498.jpgWatching the wind move fine snow over the landscape is mesmerizing to me.

The snow dances,

whisked low, sifting as smooth as the most refined granulated sugar over the open spaces,

then spinning around to be thrown high, chasing billows of itself wild and free through the limitless expanse of the air.

The swirling and pouring creates this constantly changing landscape of fine layers, and miniature buttes, mesas, dunes and canyons.

Best of all is when the sun is shining at the same time, adding sparkle and shimmer and gold to elevate the entire show from mesmerizing to magnificent.IMG_6885img_6877-e1519176732283.jpgimg_6862.jpgIMG_6873IMG_7376-1.jpgIt’s like an Olympic figure skating performance, complete with the artistry, sparkles and gold.  The wind and the snow, they are like the perfect couple, as the wind tosses the snow up, spinning, catching it again with effortless ease, moving in perfect time with each other and the sound of their own music.  Only it’s right in my front yard, nobody’s keeping track of points, and I seem to be the only one watching.

But there the comparisons will have to cease, because other than the suspense of who will win, the required precision and ranking system of such a human performance removes it from the sheer mystery and wonder to be found in the movement of the wind and it’s interplay with the snow.

It’s no wonder that Solomon chooses the wind, then, as his comparison to the great mystery of how God works.

“As you do not know the path of the wind…so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. (Ecclesiastes 11:5)

Or, as a more familiar passage states it:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
            Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.

      “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
            So are My ways higher than your ways
            And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)