A Psalm for Spring

IMG_4922 editWinter is well suited for contemplation.  Spring, I’m reminded lately, is not.  Spring is, rather, for living in the moment, moving constantly from the enjoyment of one beautiful, wonderful thing to the next, trying not to dwell on the fact that you’re probably still missing something wonderful.  Nothing sits still, lingers or waits for you.  There is a great tension of panic and excitement that wells up inside of me at the recognition of this.  I feel a little like my children, oh so impatient to be done with phonics and math, oh so eager to run outside and not miss a single glorious day of this fleeting season.

And to be honest, that’s kind of what I’ve been doing.  I’ve been so busy in my spare time taking pictures of the world exploding to life lately, I’ve had little time to think of composing words to accompany them and little motivation to sit down and apply myself to the task.  This is what happens to severely cabin-fevered Minnesotans after over half a year of winter, I suppose.  Finally, I’ve realized that soon I’ll have more pictures in my files than can ever properly fit in one blog post and I’d better quit waiting around for writing inspiration and just send them out into the world before they’re completely out of date.

Besides, I suspect the words of this ancient Psalm sum it up far better than I ever could.  Welcome to a little glimpse of the glory of spring that I’ve been reveling in.

IMG_4792 edit“How good it is to sing praises to our God, IMG_4926 edithow pleasant and lovely to praise Him!IMG_4939 edit.jpgGreat is our Lord, and mighty in power;IMG_5051 edit.jpgHis understanding has no limit.IMG_4917 edit.jpgSing to the LORD with thanksgiving; IMG_4947 edit.jpgmake music on the harp to our God, IMG_4995 edit.jpgwho covers the sky with clouds,img_5024-edit.jpgwho prepares rain for the earth,

IMG_5030 edit.jpg IMG_5044 edit.jpgwho makes grass to grow on the hills.IMG_5065 editHe sends forth His command to the earth; His word runs swiftly.IMG_5068 edit.jpgHe provides food for the animals,IMG_4978 edit.jpgand for the young ravens when they call.IMG_4984 edit.jpgHallelujah!”

(Excerpts from Psalm 147)

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)

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.

Leafing

IMG_8464-1.jpgIn the golden light just before sunset, the baby leaves and buds are like haloed clouds resting across the branch tops. IMG_8466-1.jpgA little closer, and they are like green and gold lace and perfectly strung strings of peridot amidst the twigs and stalwart browns of the forest.IMG_8473.JPGUp close, there is a tiny world of intricate unfolding beauty to discover.

Meanwhile, I can hear nothing but spring peepers and the occasional haunting call of newly-returned loons on a nearby lake.  After an intensely busy week, the wonder of it all quiets my soul, drawing me into worship, gently smoothing away the tensions and distractions.

The truth is, sometimes we just need a few minutes to be still and meditate on His wonderful works to fully restore our souls.

On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.” (Psalm 145:5)

All These Things

IMG_1042IMG_1043This is the story of a search for morel mushrooms.IMG_1055 Twice I went looking…IMG_0883Twice I returned empty-handed.IMG_1052But, in process of closely examining large stretches of forest floor in vain, I did make a lot of other wonderful discoveries.IMG_0880 Once, I sat quietly staring into a stand of fiddleheads so long, a grouse thought I’d left and started drumming his log within ten feet of me.  For just a minute, I thought my heart was palpitating—until I realized that he was really just that close.  Then he exploded suddenly off into the woods when I tried to shift to a spot with a better view, which is, incidentally, when my heart rate did increase.IMG_0891I nearly stepped on the elaborate den of some creature (I’d like to imagine it a fox den, but it more likely belongs to far less charming skunks), and happened upon a wolf track, perfectly dried and preserved in last week’s mud.IMG_0886-01 IMG_1039  I chanced upon a place where jack-in-the-pulpits preached in a woodland meadow to spears of blue flag leaves…IMG_1048…and another where the wild plums were wreathed in clouds of frilly white.IMG_0978I didn’t find what I was looking for—but I did find so much more.

The search for the elusive edible delicacies of the forest will continue.  One day, I’ll find what I’m actually looking for—and we’ll fry them up in butter and eat them—but even after that it will continue, because then they’ll be gone and we’ll want more. It’s one of those kind of searches, never ending, always new, always exciting.  The desire is insatiable.  If you don’t like morel mushrooms, I’m sorry that you won’t be able to identify with this, but if you do, you know what I mean.

And along the way, the search is always guaranteed to be fruitful.

Because, see, regardless of whether I came home with mushrooms or not, I did come home with my head and camera full of spring’s splendor flung glorious across the forest.  (Such riches!)  And I did find information to help me with future searches.  (Now I know where they’re not, sigh.)

It reminded me, in a happy, unexpected sort of way, of another ongoing search I’ve been challenged to, one in which I continually search for one thing of great value and end up with so much more along the way.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)

 

 

 

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September Rain

IMG_7026.JPGI’m hurrying to finish my errands on a gray and rainy day, wishing I had brought an umbrella.  I’m focusing on the heavy clouds and the moisture seeping uncomfortably into my shoes.  I almost missed it.  But the tiny flash of color caught my eye as I passed and I turned back to look.  And there, out of the blue, in the last place a country girl expects to capture the essence of autumn, there’s this single leaf, liquid golden-yellow against a city sidewalk wet with September rain.

Before you know it, I’m running back to my car for my camera, ignoring the great drops splashing on my head as I lean in to capture this one small, brilliant taste of fall—and suddenly grateful for the rain that saturates the colors and makes it shine.  Even in the rain, He gives good gifts, if only we have our eyes open to see—and sometimes they’re all that much better because of it.

“…Rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful…” (Joel 2:23)

 

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Rhubarb and a Legacy That Lives On

rhubarb / rejoicing hillsWhen the giant rhubarb leaves began to unfurl their creases and wrinkles out by the milk house this spring, it was hard not feel a little happy-sad at the sight.  One of the plants in my flourishing patch, the best one on the end with the slenderest brightest red stems,  isn’t original to the property like the others are.  It was a gift to me the spring I was a new bride, expecting my first child and eagerly planning our very first garden at the house we had recently moved into.

I had stopped at my nearly 90-year-old grandpa’s house to pick up a few of the vegetable plants from his little homemade greenhouse, the extras from his own ambitious garden that he had always offered to family year after year.IMG_1870“Do you have any rhubarb at the new place?” Grandpa asked, as he tucked sturdy tomato plants, peppers and cabbage into a wooden flat for me.  The white Styrofoam cups squeaked against each other as he splashed them liberally with a scoop of collected rainwater.  He scrawled the variety names onto a yellow page from an old auction receipt book, garden dirt beneath his nails, fingers big and rugged around the stub of a pencil.  “Rutger is a new variety,” he noted.  “Nice and early, and great flavor.  I searched all over town to find seed after I tasted one last year; finally found it at Fleet for ninety cents a packet.  Can’t beat that price!  Oh, and you’ll want some of these Sugar Cherry, too.  Just like candy.”

I nodded in agreement, then replied, “No, there’s no rhubarb at our new place; I’ll be able to get some from Mom’s garden, though—“  But he hadn’t heard the last part of my sentence, only the word “no”.  “My rhubarb really took off this spring,” he said proudly, grabbing a shovel leaning against a nearby shed, and heading off purposefully towards the garden.  “I’ll dig you up one.”

Pleased at the unexpected offer, I followed him along the little path through the row of pines that separated the house from the garden, ducking and stepping high to miss the elaborate system of electric wires that guarded his carefully cultivated vegetables from hungry critters.  A row of butter crunch lettuce made a brilliant yellow-green ruffle against the black dirt of the freshly tilled soil; further down, I could see the shadows of more greenhouse plants like the ones he had put in a flat for me, growing sturdy beneath their hand-cobbled mini greenhouses of wire and plastic.  As usual, his garden was in weeks before anyone else’s and thriving.  He stooped to pull a couple radishes, shaking off the dirt before he handed them to me.  “You better take a couple of those, too.”

rhubarb leaf / rejoicing hillsUp by the raspberry patch, he searched among the big leaves of the rhubarb until he found an off-shoot plant, just the right size to survive a transplant well.  He lifted it out and I held a plastic shopping bag open.  He dumped it unceremoniously inside.  It always boggled my mind how he could treat tender young plants with such carelessness yet have them perform so beautifully under his care.  If only the plants under my care could grow half so well—was that careless confidence the key, I wondered to myself?

A generous splash of water back at the greenhouse was the finishing touch.  “Put some good manure around that when you plant it and you should have rhubarb to pick next year,” he declared confidently, wiping his hands off on the sides of his tan coveralls.  I tucked the bag into the back of my vehicle next to the flat of tomatoes and promised to take good care of it.IMG_4590When we moved again the following spring, that rhubarb plant came with me even though I was aware that there was already a well-established patch at our new place.  Being transplanted twice like that set it back for a while, but by the next spring, thanks to several of those recommended scoops of “good manure”, I pulled my first stems of Grandpa’s rhubarb.

I mixed up a batch of old-fashioned rhubarb custard bars first, the kind I have fond memories of my mom making for us when I was a child.  The small red squares of stem glimmered like tart pink jewels encrusted in the creamy yellow custard, and I thought smilingly of Grandpa as I sampled a sweet slender square still warm from the oven.  I told him of my success the next time I saw him.

He was pleased.rhubarb custard bars / rejoicing hillsLast fall, Grandpa went home to be with the Lord, and so this spring, the little tractor and plow that he used to turn the soil to velvet sat silent in the shed.  His rhubarb plants unfurled and went to seed because no one was there in the little white house beyond the pines to pluck off the seed pods.  The greenhouse was sold at the estate auction to a neighbor and the little bent wire plant cages covered clumsily in plastic and held together with twine went into a dumpster.

But out by my milk house, a little piece of Grandpa’s love for the soil grew on.

I thought of him as I walked out one dewy morning with my little girls, his first great-grandchildren, to pick the first stems of the year.  I showed them how to reach down low to pull the stems so that they didn’t break and nothing was wasted, remembering his very last words to me as he grasped my hand from where he lay on the hospital bed.  “You take good care of those little girls now.”  The admonition echoed in my mind as they pretended that the big leaves were umbrellas and used butter knives to “help” me cut the red stems into small squares when we got back to the house.  IMG_4480I beat together sugar and golden-yolked farm eggs, and folded the tart chunks into the yellow custard while they stood on chairs and watched.  The legacy of love for things that grow had begun for yet another generation and I knew Grandpa would be pleased.  Later, I thought of this Scripture passage as I pulled the pan of bars out of the oven and set them on a rack to cool:

“How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, Who walks in His ways.  When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands, You will be happy and it will be well with you.” (Psalm 128:1-2)

That was Grandpa, literally and figuratively.  Because he also left behind a legacy that was much greater than a love for things that grow from the earth.  The greatest legacy he left behind was a deep love for the Creator of the earth.

There’s a well-used Bible, liberally highlighted and underlined, stored safely at a family member’s house now, with a long list of dates in the back recording each time he had read the beloved Book from cover to cover.

Many, many times.IMG_7242 (683x1024)It’s the one physical thing we have left as a testimony to his decades of walking with the Lord and we treasure it.  It is my greatest hope and prayer, however, that this legacy won’t remain locked up tidily in a safe to crumble away and die there like my rhubarb plant would have without sunlight and soil.  I hope it, too, will send out little shoots, and grow and flourish for generations to come, not in the fertile black soil of a garden, but in the soil of my heart, and the hearts of all his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and beyond.  It was his greatest desire as he died, and will, in eternity, be his greatest joy.

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 1:4)IMG_9627And best of all, even when all the things of this earth pass away, including all rhubarb plants of sentimental value—that is a legacy that can never perish or be taken away.

For more happy memories of my grandpa, see here.

 

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White Water

white water / rejoicing hillsWe stood on the dam, peering over the edge.  The roar was deafening.

“Dat water is white, Daddy!” our little girl observed.

“Yes, honey.  That’s how you know the water is going very fast.”

I was thankful for the tightly secured chain link fencing on both sides of the walkway as she stood at the very edge, surprisingly unafraid, watching in fascination as the water spewed tight through the spillways and churned free into the river below.  It was all very exciting, her three-year-old mind oblivious to the warning signs and hazard lights blinking danger all around us.  Daddy and mommy were there with her.  What did she have to fear?

She didn’t know that white water also meant trouble.river's edge / rejoicing hillsI thought about a conversation my husband and I had had earlier in the day, about the trouble in the world and all around us.

Sometimes it can be terribly discouraging, especially when it seems to heap up and come at you from all sides.  You can feel like you’re being tossed around as relentlessly as the tight angry waters in one of those spillways, battered hard against the concrete walls, and all you want is the relief of finally being spewed out the other side so you can find some quiet pool downstream where you can rest and breathe again.

It made me tense and weary just to think of it, and I was relieved when we moved off the dam, and onto a tiny winding trail that followed the river’s edge.  I liked this better.  Here, there were delicate ferns clinging to mossy rock walls, birch trees leaning gracefully over the calmer ripples at the water’s edge and a soft autumn carpet of warm lacy brown oak leaves underfoot.  The roar of the dam faded away in the distance, replaced by the gentle sound of water lapping against rocks along the shore and the whispering breeze in the trees.  Ah—these were the restful places I had in mind.brown oak leaves / rejoicing hillsrocks in the water / rejoicing hillsIMG_1392 editOr were they?

I stumbled as I clambered down a rocky side path to get a closer look at the pretty little ferns.  The thick carpet of oak leaves had been deceptive—what I had thought was solid ground was not.

Was there no escaping trouble?  No, I realized, shaking my head over the irony of it as I regained my footing and continued on more cautiously—there really wasn’t.  If it wasn’t glaring in your face, it always seemed to be hiding where you least expected it.

This was no secret to Jesus, which is why He once stated to his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble.”  He knew it was not just a possibility or a maybe.  It was a certainty.  If it wasn’t clear cut persecution, it would be the enemy inside you, that wearying war between the flesh and the spirit.  If wasn’t trouble of your own making, it would be trouble of someone else’s making, purposeful or unintentional.  If it wasn’t any of these, it would just be the stark reality that we live in a fallen world where there is sickness, and death, and the struggle to survive, and where the sheets we got as a wedding present wear out and rip clean through.  (Yep, just this morning.)  And then there would be fear, the thing that can get you even when nothing is actually wrong.

fern on rock face / rejoicing hillsIMG_1388 editSo what did He mean when He followed up that statement with this one?

“But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Obviously He didn’t mean that we’d escape all trouble by following Him.  If anything, He warned elsewhere that there would be more if we did.  But then I thought back to the beginning of the verse, before He even comments on the certainty of trouble:

“I have told you these things so that in Me you might have peace.”

That phrase “IN ME” jumped out at me, and then it clicked.  So the picture of the peace He was talking about was really right back up on that dam. The two of them were back on it now, making their way slowly across the walkway.  The small girl in the gray jacket walked calmly next to her daddy between the chain link barriers, the late afternoon sunlight highlighting all the little hairs escaping from her braids.  She stopped periodically to look over the edge and ask questions.  In the midst of the noise and turbulence, the calm voice of his explanations and the reassurance of his presence were all the security she needed.ferns / rejoicing hillsThis was peace.

Not in finding our comfort in our circumstances but finding it in the One who walks beside us.  The reality of trouble will never be any greater than the certainty of His presence.  It’s as astonishing and simple as that—and my little girl knew it better than I did.

I stepped up onto the walkway myself, and my steps quickened as I hurried to catch up to my family, hardly noticing the white water churning below as my heart flooded with renewed peace and the determination to learn from her example.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:20)

In Celebration of Green

IMG_5807My favorite color is green, but especially so at this time of year.  Am I the only one?  I kind of suspect that a lot of people have a renewed appreciation for this vibrant color of life in the spring.  There’s a whole lot more of it that’s going to be happening outside really soon, but here’s a little close-up celebration of the way green is beginning to appear everywhere we look.green leaf / rejoicing hills

“And the earth brought forth grass,

green grass / rejoicing hillsand herb yielding seed after his kind,

IMG_5720 editand the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind; 

lilac leaves / rejoicing hillsand God saw that it was good.”  (Genesis 1:12)

leafing spirea / rejoicing hills