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)

Giving

IMG_5946.JPGI find my mailbox stuffed full of shiny catalogs.  The sign at Walmart carefully documents exactly how few days are left until the big holiday.  My email inbox blinks every morning with a dizzying array of emails from all my favorite companies, wanting to make sure that I don’t forget.  Christmas is coming!  Whatever we sell is certainly exactly what everyone on your gift list needs!!  It’s a sale you can’t beat!!!  Finish you gift list with us!!! Hurry, hurry, before it’s too late!!!!

And they’re right about one thing.

Christmas is coming!  But do you get as weary of all the anticipation being linked to the use of your pocket book as I do?

I’m all about a good sale.  I also really enjoy putting thought and care into shopping for just the right gifts for the people on my list, envisioning their pleasure upon receiving them.  I feel like thoughtful gift giving can be a truly unselfish and beautiful way to commemorate the giving of the greatest Gift the world has ever known.

If that’s really why you’re doing it.

Because sometimes, between the long lines at check out, neon doorbuster signs, the giant displays of cheap plastic stocking stuffers and the mailboxes overflowing with ads, we can lose sight of why we’re even engaging in this cultural practice.  It becomes simply tradition for tradition’s sake, because “that’s just what you do at Christmas”.  It becomes a burden, because “that’s what everyone expects”.  It becomes a ploy, because “if I give something, I’ll probably get something back”.  It becomes an annoyance, because “they have everything” or “I hate shopping”.  It becomes a show, because “people will be impressed by my generosity, my cleverness and my gift wrapping skills”.  It becomes a contest, because “my gift is better than your gift” (or isn’t).  It can even become depressing, because “people are so ungrateful” or “my gift isn’t as nice as I would like it to be”.

But the fact is, if our “giving” has become any of these things, it has lost it’s meaning and it’s not even giving anymore.  It has become some other self-centered practice, and in that case, the world would be better off if you just quit.

Not quit giving.  Quit giving for the wrong reasons.

Because giving isn’t the problem.  The pure act of true giving has never been anything but good.  It’s in the motive and heart of the giver where the trouble can lie.

IMG_5948.JPGI believe that the best way to keep the motive of our giving pure is to simply seek to give as Christ gave.  Jesus put Himself in a manger, knowingly beginning the path to the cross, and gave the greatest gift anyone could possibly give—Himself.  What’s more, He gave that gift to everyone in the entire history of the world, past, present and future.

He gave to people who He knew would take His gift for granted, without comprehending the infinite value of what He had done.

He gave to people who would eventually turn the greatest event in the history of the world into just one more rote tradition—“a nice story to read in December and perhaps attend church to commemorate”.

He gave to a world that just expected Him to give—“no big deal, that’s what God does, and I deserve it”.

He gave fully knowing that He would receive absolutely nothing in return from the recipients—and that they had nothing to give back even if they wanted to.

He gave knowing that His gift would be met by ungratefulness, scorn and even hatred.

He gave to needy people who had nothing but thought they were rich and had everything.

He gave even though it was unthinkably inconvenient for Him to leave His throne in the heavens and confine the Eternal God of the universe to the limits of a frail human body.  He gave even though it would eventually mean excruciating pain of soul and body before the giving of His gift was finished.

He gave expecting to impress no one, but only to please His Father.

No, contrary to what the retail world might like us to think, Christmas isn’t about presents.  But the celebration of Christ’s birth is absolutely about giving.

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)

“But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness, and in…love…see that you also excel in this grace of giving…For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:7, 9)

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

“Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35)

Black and White World

IMG_5685-1.jpgI’ve been seeing this black and white photo challenge happening around social media that sounded like fun.

Seven photos, no people, no explanations, just something from you life, all black and white.  These are the rules.

I suppose I’m kind of breaking one of those rules by saying even this much, but when we woke up to lowering gray skies and the first snowfall of the year, I knew it was time to take a walk and do the challenge myself.

After all, when is it easier to compose black and white photos than when the landscape has already been turned black and white for you?

IMG_5692-1.jpgIMG_5686-1.jpgIMG_5706-1IMG_5711-1.jpgIMG_5723-1IMG_5716-1And speaking of contrasts, here’s verse that contains a truly glorious one:

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Now that’s a black and white picture that takes my breath away.

And Then Came Winter

img_8273One day it was fall, the next morning we awoke to winter.  A world of brown suddenly transformed to a world of white.  Just like that.

My oldest daughter came walking out of her bedroom, eyes sparkling. “It’s SNOWTIME, Mommy!!!”

My two-year-old, upon being lifted up to a window so she could see, exclaimed in wide-eyed, sincere amazement, “Oh. My. Goodness.”

img_8270IMG_8260.JPGIt was wonderful.

I love how every year the beauty of winter manages to take me by surprise, evoking the same kind of childish wonder in my soul that I saw on my children’s faces.

I could hardly wait until later, when I was finally able to slip on my skis and go out into it.  I glided over the unbroken surface, daring to cut a crisp twin track through the artful riffles of drifting snow.   The evening star winked at me in the lavender sky above the snowy pines, and the lake, still unfrozen, glimmered pale gold and pink—and silently I breathed thanks for the glory of a new season.

img_8373And for something else, too, because there were two things to be thankful for, really.  The pure clean snow, yes—but, even more, how it symbolized the state of my heart.

“…though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)

Once upon a time, my heart was stained with sin, glaring crimson as the most brilliant maples of autumn—but then came the day I gave it all to Christ, and the transformation was just as sudden and wonderful as this overnight advent of winter.

 

Glimpses of Summer

IMG_5607I’m sure it will come as a surprise to no one that my days this summer have been a lot less about taking photos of nature and writing about them, and a lot more about taking photos of a certain darling little lady and writing in my journal about her first smiles or the first time she slept through the night.

But in between the midnight feedings and uncounted numbers of diapers changed, I still watch for the beauty outdoors, even if it’s only through the windows while I’m pacing through the house in an effort to soothe her cries on a fussy day.  I don’t see many exotic things, but I do see the way the morning dew is glistening on the clematis or the way the light falls warm and soft across the field grass just before the sun sets—and these bits of loveliness are things that have fed my soul on days that adjusting to life with three small children under my care is a little on the overwhelming side.

The other thing that has fed my soul lately is the book of Psalms which we’ve been reading through, one a day at breakfast time—and chapter 36 is one of my recent favorites.  May these excerpts from it, accompanied by these glimpses of my summer, feed your soul, too.IMG_6293“How precious is your steadfast love, O God! IMG_5363The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings…IMG_5520They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights…IMG_6152For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” (Psalm 36:7-9)

Rushing River

IMG_3039  IMG_3020We were standing at the edge of a steep bank.  Late afternoon sunlight slanted gold through pine branches over our heads, highlighting the moist hummocks of brilliant green moss creeping along the slanting forest floor.  Below us, a river, satiated with a deluge of rapidly melting snow, rushed it’s wild, joyful way down to bigger waters.IMG_3026IMG_3021  IMG_3033The music of its abundant fullness reminded me of this verse:

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'”  (John 7:37-38)

A little river like this, wildly overflowing with springtime run-off, is exactly what I picture a life looking like as the fulfillment this verse.  A life so brimful of Christ that it can’t even hold the goodness back—it pours out in utter abandon, literally gushing with the joy of it.

And the good news is: in our case, the source never diminishes like the banks of melting snow eventually will for this little river.  The invitation is always open, the supply is endless.  The only way we can possibly dry up is if we quit coming and drinking.

And how do you come and drink?  It’s simple.  Spend as much time as you can with Him.  Read His Word.  Talk to Him.

“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”  (Matthew 5:6)

May the river of living water that flows from you as a result be one hundred times more wildly beautiful and joyful than this one. IMG_3022.JPG

Snowy

IMG_2109 editI’m sitting here, gazing out the window, watching lazy flakes drift to the ground, gently highlighting the forms of dark spruce across the field.  It seems strange that they’re forecasting temperatures above freezing for the next couple weeks, which means our world of white may soon be turning to soggy brown.  But it’s March, after all, that indecisive in-between month that (where I live) is never quite winter, never quite spring.

With all this uncertainty, then, it seems like I’d better slip in this last ode to the beauty of winter before it’s too late—and with it, excerpts from a most appropriate psalm.  IMG_1579 edit“Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting…winter shed…He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly…IMG_2049 editIMG_1573 edit
He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes…IMG_2120 edit…He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold?…Praise the LORD!”  (Psalm 147:1, 15-17, 20)

If you get a chance and need something guaranteed to lift your spirits (who doesn’t?), slip out your Bible and take a moment to read through this psalm in it’s entirety—I’ll just say that it’s not only about snow and ice, and it’s pretty magnificent!