Forget Not His Benefits

IMG_5257 editSometimes, when you’re sick in bed, watching the world go by without you outside your window, it’s good to do something other than focus on how sore your throat happens to be.  Or maybe, for you, it’s more like sick in heart and focusing on how deep your hurts happen to be.  Either way, they can end up feeling pretty similar: discouraging.

I’ve found myself in both shoes at various times in my life, but for the past couple weeks, it happened to be in the physical realm, when my body decided to ignore all the items on my to-do list and important things I had on my schedule and sent me to bed instead with barely a voice to ask for a drink of water.  This was not in the plans, not to mention how many well-laid plans it managed to throw awry.

These are the times, I’ve found, when it’s time for a good dose of Psalm 103 right along with all the Vitamin C:

“Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (vs. 2)

It’s called turning my focus from all the things I’m missing out on to the gifts I have been given, which are many but too easily forgotten in the trouble of the moment.  Sometimes I think that’s one of the main reasons I even take pictures: so I can look at them later, remember, and be thankful.  That’s also one of the main reasons I keep a journal.  I think everyone should have some tangible way of remembering the little and big things God has given them, even if it’s just a running list on the counter.  Because we are oh, so prone to forget, but what incredible healing and uplifting there can be in the remembering!

So from my sick chair one afternoon, I scrolled through my photo files for the months of June and July, and remembered some of His benefits.

I remembered how we held our breath, waiting for the strawberry blossoms to turn to tiny nuggets of red sweetness in the canopy of the field grasses,

and how the butterflies danced amidst the short-lived lilacs, then moved to the field flowers.IMG_5210 edit.jpgIMG_5199 edit.jpg IMG_5768 editIMG_5809 editI remembered exhilarating cannonballs into cold lake water on a sultry day (or timid tiptoes in, as the personality went),

how we welcomed the first clouds of dragonflies zooming in to bring welcome relief from too many mosquitoes,

that day we swam with turtles.IMG_5726 editIMG_5702 editIMG_5887 editI remembered the spotted fawns trailing their mamas, stopping to stare wide-eyed at us from the edges of the forest,

watching from a respectful distance as a brave mama turtle left her eggs to the fates of nature,

that morning we got fresh doughnuts from a bakery and stopped to watch goose families paddling down a winding green river.IMG_5360 editIMG_5339 editIMG_5279 edit.jpgI remembered how the wild roses bent along the lake edge to almost touch the lapping waves,

the day I sat on a lake shore in a gentle rain of mayflies and thought how wonderful it was to be covered in bugs that didn’t bite you,

the day I and a three-year-old chased a brown-eyed cottontail through the field grass.IMG_5751 edit.jpgIMG_5559 edit.jpgIMG_5676 editI remembered the fish we saw, and the fish we caught,

the evening we celebrated our first summer birthday girl,

and waking up in the middle of the night to hear the loons yodeling and see the fireflies dancing outside my window like a thousand elusive stars.IMG_5763 editIMG_5457 edit.jpgIMG_6022 editI remembered eating ice cream in a shop that smelled of vanilla and waffles,

tiny birds carefully held by a small girl with a hole in her smile,

the way dandelions gone to seed look in the sunshine.IMG_5389 edit.jpgIMG_6062 edit.jpgIMG_5271 edit.jpgI remembered climbing among quiet pools and granite boulders along the Bigfork River,

the day we finally found the robin’s nest’,

and watching the full moon rise up over the flower garden.IMG_5851 edit.jpgIMG_6124 editIMG_6118 edit.jpgAnd, as is often the case, it was easy to go on from there and remember the things I didn’t have photographs of, like…

healthy baby kicks in my womb,

soothing tea with honey,

and my husband and dear friends who washed my dishes, cared for my children, and brought me food and medicine while I was down.

And you know what?  I wasn’t healed when I was done.  I was coughing as much as ever.  But in my soul, there had been a healing shift from the mentality of “poor me” to “wow, look at all my blessings”—and sometimes, I think we actually need that kind of healing more.

“Bless the LORD, O my soul; all that is within me, bless His holy name…

He who forgives all your iniquities, and heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the Pit and crowns you with loving devotion and compassion,

who satisfies you with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103: 1, 3-5)

Sandhill Cranes

img_1602-1-e1559014041812.jpgWe’ve seen them other years, stopping very briefly on their way to other destinations or merely flying over—but this year, two (and sometimes three) lingered for weeks.  The deep-throated trombone of their voices was an exotic addition to our usual local symphony, putting the normally dominate swan trumpeting to shame, and for awhile, they would even sound off like clockwork around 5 AM every morning.  Who needs an alarm clock, my husband and I would mumble groggily to each other, when you have sandhill cranes in your back yard?

I expected lots of photo opportunities, but there was one thing I hadn’t figured on, and that’s how alert these big birds are.  That was coupled with the fact that they generally feed in the open fields, where there is little cover for a hopeful photographer.  I made a couple noble efforts, but to no avail.  Off they’d flap, every time, noisily warning to the rest of world!  “She may not look like a wolf,” I could imagine them croaking knowingly to each other, “But she may be a wolf in human clothing.”  They weren’t taking any risks when it came to suspicious creeping in their direction.

On one of these attempts I discovered that I wasn’t the only one curious about the newcomers—but this inquisitive deer had a little more luck with close-ups than I did.IMG_4764 edit.jpgIMG_4766 edit.jpgFrustrating as it was to have my designs foiled time after time, I had to begrudgingly admire these giant fowl’s sense of awareness though.  It reminded me of the sobering topic we’ve been studying on Wednesday nights at church, and in particular, this verse:

“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

It would seem that we all could learn a bit from the sandhill cranes, who never seem to let down their guard, who not only see and flee at the first sign of danger but warn everyone around them of it, too.  Sometimes, instead, we’re a bit too much like the pair of twin fawns I encountered the other day (unfortunately without a camera in hand), who naively wandered out into the middle of the road to sniff the tires of my paused car.  “Look, isn’t it pretty?  Isn’t it shiny?  It doesn’t look like those wolves mother is always warning us against.  Surely it won’t hurt to take a closer look!”  All the while ignoring the frantic hoof stomping of their mother from the safety of the ditch, quite oblivious to the fact that I’d just come within inches of running them over and that someday a hunter will not merely sit there admiring their pretty brown eyes.

Hopefully, before it’s too late, they will learn, as the sandhill cranes know, that danger does not always come packaged in sharp teeth and furs, and that it’s better to be wary, listen to the warnings from those around you and do your research of the unknown from a safe distance.

And hopefully, each of us does, too.*

“[Therefore] Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13)

*For more in depth instructions on how to identify and withstand the spiritual enemy I’m alluding to here, see Ephesians 6:10-18, or check out the excellent study guide we’ve been using over here called Spiritual Warfare: Overcoming the Enemy by Kay Arthur and David and BJ Lawson.

Little American Falls

IMG_4710 edit.jpgThe first time I clambered beneath the cedars trees along this steep muddy bank, we were eagerly experiencing the sights of our new neighborhood for the very first time.  On the recommendation of a dear friend, we drove up through the Bigfork State Forest, on a narrow strip of asphalt hedged by endless miles of black swamp water and stunted spruce.  There, tucked away in an obscure little park, we found the Bigfork River rushing it’s way to Canada across a set of Class III-IV rapids.  It was not quite Niagara Falls, but it was an exciting stretch of river that we could hear the thunder of before we saw it.  

Today, almost exactly six years later, I’m on the same narrow trail, and I find that little has changed since then, as far as the river is concerned.  It’s still flowing faithfully.  The rocks cradling it show no visible signs of erosion.  The tumbling water still curls over that one giant boulder out in the middle in exactly the same way.

The changes that have occurred have been in my own life, and I’ve brought them with me.  My firstborn clambers ahead of me on this Sunday afternoon, reaching sweetly back to offer me a hand on the “hard parts”.  She’s not strong enough yet to really help, but I pretend to accept her offer anyway, marveling privately at how quickly life flies by.  Last time on this trail I was six months pregnant with her, not even a year married. Now she’s out there confidently posing on the lichened rocks while I snap pictures and punctuate my sentences anxiously with “be careful” and “that’s close enough”.  My husband is back up the trail, holding the hands of her two little sisters, who we had only dreamed of at that point.  

On the other hand, one thing hasn’t changed about me.  Apparently, being pregnant, even for the fourth time, still has little bearing on my eagerness to bypass the safely situated visitor’s viewing platforms to get up close to rushing water.   

IMG_4726 edit.jpg IMG_4720 edit.jpgIMG_4687 edit.jpgLast time I was here, I saw the elusive woodcock for the first time in my life, exploding up at my feet from what had appeared to be merely a pile of leaves.  Today the only wildlife is the bed of fluffy foam caught in an out-of-the-way nook beneath the falls, looking strikingly like the back of a very furry animal as it bobs gently in the current.  I smile when my daughter asks worriedly with big eyes: “Mommy, is that a bear?”  “Go poke it and see,” I counter slyly.  She laughs out loud at herself when she discovers that it’s pure fluff.

As we climb back up the river bank, I note the mosses cropping up lush and verdant at my feet, and the first signs of life at the tips of the tree branches arching over my head.  Spring is just waking here, reminding me of a sleepy, groggy two-year-old toddling out to snuggle with me on the couch in the morning, or maybe the four-year-old rolling over in the cocoon of her favorite penguin blanket and blinking sleepily at the morning light coming through her window.  Everything still has that just-got-out-of-bed look, still a little rumpled and squinty-eyed.

The most showy are the pussy willows, who have clearly gone from stage 1, silky and pearly gray, to stage 2, fluffy and lemon-lime yellow.  Also lovely at the tips of the maple branches exploding into bits of red, more showy up close than from a distance. And then on the forest floor, I see the bravely emerging leaves of hepatica.  Leaning down to feel beneath the leaves, I find what I’m looking for at the base of the plant: the downy heads of flower buds just emerging.  A couple more days, and there will be wildflowers in the woods.IMG_4721 edit.jpgIMG_4677 editBack up at the picnic area, we shake what mud we can off our shoes and take a last-minute trip to the nearby outhouse where we convince the girls that it’s safe to seat yourself over a deep, dark, echoing hole receding into the unknown depths of the earth.  Then we head out down the winding dirt road.  Tired little people quickly nod off into belated naps, and the thunder of the falls fades into fiddle music cranked up to keep their parents from following suit on the journey home. 

It’s good to know that as my own life shifts and changes, a wild river running north is still there, doing it’s God-ordained thing and fulfilling it’s purpose pretty much the same as always.

“All the rivers flow into the sea,

Yet the sea is not full.

To the place where the rivers flow,

There they flow again.” (Ecclesiastes 1:7)

GPS

IMG_1282.JPGIt all began with a few simple needs that could be easily taken care of at a Walmart.  It would be a quick errand, I thought.  The only (small) problem?  I didn’t know where Walmart was in this unfamiliar city.

But that’s what GPS is for.

“Take me to Walmart,” I said to my phone as I contemplated the less-than-exciting but unavoidable prospect of backing an awkwardly long truck out on a blind curve.  “Okay, go now—FAST!” my husband shouted from the curb.  I stepped on the gas and watched his eyes get big as I came to a halt on the other side, mere inches from a signpost.  IMG_1311.JPG“After 50 feet take a left turn onto 8th Street,” the confident feminine voice instructed.  Still rattled from the close call with street signage, I sailed right past, missing my very first turn.

“In half a mile, take a right onto Center Street,” the voice calmly redirected.  At the intersection of Center Street, I found myself facing a road under massive construction.  I didn’t really want to go down there, so I picked a different road, hopeful that the voice would redirect me around the construction area.  No such luck.

“In one quarter of a mile, take a U-turn at the stoplight,” the voice instructed, not to be dissuaded.  I got to the stoplight, where two things became clear.  1) This big awkward truck was not going to be making this U-turn, and 2) getting to Walmart in an unfamiliar city was going to be a lot more complicated than I’d ever imagined.IMG_1303.JPGBut we eventually got there, that big truck and I, surprisingly all in one piece.  We went around the block to get back on track instead of making the U-turn.  We survived the road construction.  The voice from my phone carried me through, calm and unruffled through all my missed turns and second-guesses.

“Destination reached,” it informed me cheerfully as I pulled into the big store’s parking lot.  So, it really had known where it was going.  Well, that was a relief!  Now was the time to admit that I would have gotten there a lot faster if I’d paid closer attention and trusted it more implicitly—but what can I say?  I may be a millennial, but I’m still a little distrustful of allowing a robot to tell me what to do.

IMG_1355.JPG IMG_1406.JPGIMG_1380-1.jpgSometimes, the right way to go in life is a little like that, too.  You know, not quite as direct and smooth as we’d like?  And sometimes, even if you’re asking the right One for directions, it’s easy to mistrust and question whether He really knows where He’s taking you.  Sometimes we even go so far as to strike out on our own, hoping He’ll change his mind to suit our preferences

But if we know God and His Word, we also know that, unlike a GPS system, He doesn’t fail or make mistakes.  Our human feelings and inclinations may tempt us to question, and even lure us off track, but His ways are perfect and He remains faithful.

And loving.  Loving enough to patiently, persistently reroute us in the right direction after every foible.  Loving enough to stay with us every step of the way, right through the missed turns, road construction, and awkward U-turns.

It’s the ultimate GPS system, really: God’s Positioning Service

“If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)

“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” (Psalm 23:3-4)

(P.S. Photos not taken while looking for Walmart.)

Borrowed

IMG_0495.JPGMeet my borrowed kayak!

I can’t even tell you how excited I was the day it got dropped off in my yard.  I’ve been dreaming for a long time of being able to experiment with the versatility of a kayak, both for personal recreation (a vessel I could handle all on my own!) and the new world of photographic opportunity it would open up for me (high stealth waterfowl photography, coming right up).

But, of course, the catch is that it’s borrowed, so it comes with a time limit.  To make things even more interesting, I don’t actually know what the time limit is.  I have a few educated guesses as to when it’s owners are going to decide that they want it back, but I really don’t know.  It could be in my yard for as little as a couple weeks.  It could be in my yard for the rest of the summer.

One morning though, a week or so after it arrived, I woke up to the fact that it was still just sitting in my yard.  Wait a minute!  Time was ticking, but I hadn’t even used it!  How silly would it be, after all the excited intentions I’d voiced, to sheepishly admit to the owners when they came to get it that the only water that had touched it while it was in my possession was raindrops from a summer storm?  They would be quite justified in questioning the worthwhile-ness of the effort it took for them to transport it to me.

So, on a quiet Sunday as a hazy afternoon was fading into evening, I hauled it to the water and gave it a go.IMG_0519.JPGIMG_0565.JPGI slipped along past the water lilies, and brushed gently through the wild rice.  The water was like glass except for the artful zigzags of water bugs.  The mosquitoes stayed away, and I could hear a blue heron croaking in the distance.  Water dripped down to my elbows as I dipped the paddle up and down, and for a few minutes, the looming to-do list for the upcoming weeks faded away to the back of my mind.

It was every bit as peaceful and relaxing as I’d imagined; how glad I was that I hadn’t missed the opportunity!IMG_0542IMG_0549The quiet of the water was a peaceful place for thinking, and as I floated airily along in my orange pod, it occurred to me that the gift of life is a lot like a borrowed kayak.

I’ve heard people who were healed from cancer or survived a terrible accident call their life thereafter “borrowed time”.  They realize that they could/should have died, and whatever time they get after that feels like a precious gift.  They go on to live with much greater intention and with much deeper gratefulness for every breath they take.

Here’s the truth, though: Those survivors have had the advantage of a wake-up call to bring them to their senses, but you and I should be living with the exact same amount of appreciation and urgency as they are.  We’re really all living on “borrowed time”.  God gave us life, but none of us came into this world with an automatic 100% guaranteed Will-Live-To-Ripe-Old-Age warranty built in.

That truth can be a little unsettling, but living in denial of it never helped anybody.  Better to embrace the exciting part, that we’re all given the exact same chance to make what we can of our limited time of unknown duration—and we get to choose!  We can “leave it sitting idly in the yard”, or “take it to water and go somewhere with it”.  We can fill our hours with good intentions or we can buckle on a life jacket and start paddling those intentions into reality.  We can waste opportunities, or we can embrace them for their full potential.IMG_0571 My encouragement for the day?  If there’s a kayak sitting neglected in your yard, go use it.  It’s good for the soul.  And if your life feels a bit like a neglected kayak, go use that, too.  Spend it well–and when time is up and it’s time to give an account, you’ll have no regrets.

And that’s really good for the soul.

“For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  It is written:

“As surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow before Me; every tongue will confess to God.”

So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10-12)

 

Milkweed

IMG_0171.JPGWe paused on our evening walk by a stand of sturdy broad-leafed plants, with their rounded flower heads bursting demurely into dusty pink.  It’s a habit formed in kindergarten for both of us, this annual foray into a milkweed patch.  After years of monarch caterpillar awareness,  we “knew” that it was just that time of summer that there should be some caterpillars in that milkweed, somewhere.  And we needed to say hello, show them to our girls, maybe remind them that there’s a nice little flower garden full of butterfly-friendly flowers in front of our house that they’re welcome to visit when they’re grown up.

But where were they?IMG_0168It was a delightful little game of hide-and-seek, peering under leaves, along stems—and it was a credit to surprisingly clever camouflage that we had almost given up when we finally spotted one.  But then it was like our eyes adjusted and we suddenly saw them everywhere!  Some tiny, some large, dressed in yellow, black and white stripes, far too busy eating to notice they’d been discovered by friendly nature enthusiasts.  Did you know that a Monarch caterpillar is capable of eating an entire milkweed leaf in less than five minutes?  Pretty amazing mouth-work for such a tiny creature!IMG_0160IMG_0169A few weeks later, walking past the same stand of milkweed, I witnessed a delicate orange and black butterfly flitting from flower to flower, graciously sipping nectar, and I found myself marveling anew at the beauty of God’s design for sustainability in creation.

The plant gives of itself so the caterpillar may eat.  The caterpillar, nurtured exclusively by milkweed, becomes a butterfly.  The butterfly, fresh out of its gold-flecked chrysalis pauses to pollinate the flowers of its benefactor, therefore ensuring that it will bear seed to produce…

more plants,

for more caterpillars,

for more butterflies,

for more seed next year.

IMG_0461.JPGAnd while we’re marveling over Monarch butterflies, let’s not forget how those gorgeously designed wings covered in tiny delicate scales will carry this creature 2,500 miles to Mexico come fall, to spend a warm winter on the exact same few trees its ancestors have spent winters on for ages before, and then all the way back again in the spring to lay the eggs that will become that next generation of caterpillars—because there isn’t any milkweed in Mexico!

There’s so much to marvel at in just this one amazing life cycle in nature!  Truly:

“…since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

On the Twelth Day of Summer…

 

…my camera gave to me,

Twelve suns a-setting.

It seemed fitting to end this project with the best kind of ending a summer day could wish for, which is, of course, a glorious sunset.

Sometimes I caught reflections; once I caught a pulse of lightening in a rising thundercloud (can you spot it?).

Some were snapped at the last minute, quickly, while swatting mosquitoes; others were taken at leisure on nice evening walks down gravel roads while savoring soft evening breezes.

Sometimes the entire sky was ablaze with color; once, between storms, there was barely any color to speak of.

But the most memorable one was from the time I went sunset chasing while on my way home from a long day in town.  (That’s like storm chasing, with considerably less risk involved.)  I took off down never-before-explored roads with no other goal than to find the perfect vista—and upon finding it, was surprised to meet up with other sunset-chasers.

We were all ordinary people heading home at the end of a long, busy day, who had mutually caught a glimpse of something splendid happening through the trees.  Each one of us had swerved impulsively off the highway, out of the stream of steady traffic, and chased the sinking copper orb down a tiny dirt road to this quiet little spot.  We got out of our cars, adjusted our respective phones and cameras, nodded companionably to each other.  One girl noted to me, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”-–but that was about all that was said, and that was about all that needed to be said.

I loved the fact that though we were complete strangers to each other, we were, for a few breathtaking sunset moments, bound together by a common love of everyday beauty.  I don’t know if each of us was also thinking the same thing, but I like to hope so, because for me it was something like this:

Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and forevermore!  From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised! (Psalm 113:2-3)IMG_9668