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)

Easter Week: Let the Rocks Cry Out

IMG_3031 edit.jpgAs Jesus rode down from the Mount of Olives, through an eastern gate into Jerusalem, it was the closest He would ever come to being recognized by the masses as Messiah.  The significance of the moment was not lost on them.  Astride a donkey, He was fulfilling prophesy and purposefully declaring His kingship.  Their only mistake was that they dreamed too small.

They imagined a crown of gold upon his head.

He saw a crown of thorns.

They imagined him lifted high on a kingly throne.

He saw himself lifted high on a cruel cross.

They imagined Him in kingly robes.

He saw Himself stripped and beaten.

They imagined him valiantly leading them to victory amidst the clash of human-wielded swords.

He saw Himself descending into Hades and conquering death itself.

They imagined freedom from their immediate oppression, life under vexing Roman rule.

He visualized their future freedom from the eternal oppression of sin and curse that had shadowed the earth for centuries.

They imagined Him as king until the day of His death.

He knew that His reign would begin on the day of His death.

They imagined Him as King of the Jews.

He knew His destiny was to be King of all mankind.

He looked tenderly across that massive shouting throng of followers, that sea of jubilantly waving branches, the carpet of their wildly flung cloaks in the dusty road, and knew that they were welcoming a kingdom far grander than their wildest imaginations.  While this crowd would prove fickle, shouting just as loudly for His death in less than a week, their role that day was not wasted because the truth of their words remained. 

He was the son of David. 

He was coming in the name of the Lord. 

He was coming to “save now” (literal meaning of “hosanna”).

This news was so remarkably glorious, that if they hadn’t declared it, Jesus later said that the rocks themselves would have cried out the news for joy.  Why the rocks?  Because rocks are mute.  Animals have voices; plants of earth bend and whisper; water and sky speak in light, color and wind.  But as earth’s very foundation, rock is the epitome of stolid silence, resistance, and expressionless immovability.  This makes it all the more significant that, of all the natural world, the very rocks would not have been able to contain themselves in the face of silence.

Don’t you almost wish the crowds would have been silent for a minute or two, just so we could have heard what rock voices sounded like?  It gives me chills just to imagine it.IMG_3143 edit.jpg“A massive crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed were shouting: “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”

When Jesus had entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds replied, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:8-11)

“But some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!” “I tell you,” He answered, “if they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:39-40)

 

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)

On the Last Day of Summer

IMG_0145Farewell to shadows of bluebells on white chicken coop walls…IMG_9119Farewell to pleasant afternoons hanging laundry on the line in the company of friendly toads…IMG_0150Farewell to grasshoppers, and white trumpet vines, and all other such elegant pairings…IMG_9486IMG_0042-1.jpgIMG_9596Farewell to barefoot days at the edge of the lake……IMG_0433-1.jpgFarewell to the haunting serenade of loons…IMG_9160 IMG_1023-1Farewell to daisy bouquets made by small hands, and smoky sunsets, gifts from forests burning far away…IMG_0883Farewell to cumulonimbus, those splendid, tall ships sailing by in the sea of the sky…IMG_0467Farewell to restless, flitting warblers in green, green meadows…IMG_0445IMG_0439IMG_0443Farewell to lush gardens decked in the thousand diamonds of sudden morning showers…IMG_0319Farewell to the brief, warm nights, sparkling with celestial beauty and fireflies, humming with mosquitoes…IMG_9864Farewell to all the sun-ripened berries hiding under the leaves…IMG_9806Farewell to picturesque encounters on whimsical summer evening drives…IMG_9688Farewell to all the babies, now raised and grown…IMG_9426Farewell to dancing swallowtails in ballrooms of flowers…IMG_9611Farewell, sweet summer; welcome, glorious autumn!

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.)

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.

Vacation Vignettes: Peninsula

IMG_3667.JPGWe chose a destination on the map, a place with a name hard to wrap our tongues around, that neither of us had ever been to before.  We took an entire day and took our sweet, winding, whimsical time and way to get there.  We found places we’d spotted on maps and in brochures.  We found things that no map or brochure can point you to, small and not-so-small details that delighted and surprised us. It was the perfect juxtaposition of the expected and the unexpected, a true adventure. And so, as the grand finale to this little series of vacation photographs, come have a little glimpse of the beautiful Keweenaw Peninsula with us.IMG_3680IMG_3551.JPGWe took the roads labeled “scenic” and “shoreline” as much as possible, for obvious reasons.  It’s the same great lake whose waves we’ve seen pounding the shore of our own home state, but it was no less breathtaking here!IMG_3467We peeked hopefully beneath the leaves of these thimbleberry bushes, and were mocked with loads of not-quite-ripe berries.  So we bought thimbleberry jam instead at…IMG_3474.JPG…a fairy-tale bakery that smelled of gingerbread, surrounded by magnificent fragrant rose bushes.  I never thought I’d meet a bakery that smelled as good outside as it did inside, but I was wrong.  The fact that the delicious muffins we also secured here were baked by kind bearded monks in long black robes only added to its charm.IMG_3497We climbed a red wrought iron staircase, which wound tightly to the top of…IMG_3505IMG_3528…a perfectly picturesque lighthouse with a shiny red tin roof.IMG_3651IMG_3663 IMG_3607We picked wildflowers, ate the most delicious fresh lake trout right in view of the great lake it was caught in. and explored a historic fort.   IMG_3698.JPGIMG_3709-1.jpgAnd then, as a fitting finale to the day, we drove right to the top of Brockway Mountain to see for miles in every direction, and join other happy people who were also taking time out of their busy schedules to watch the sun as it slipped like a giant copper penny into the lake spread out below us.  IMG_3714.JPGAnd then that magnificent sunset chased us all the way down the long road home.  The tired little people nodded off to sleep in the back seat, cheeks rosy with sunshine and sticky from after-dinner mints, and the great dark dusk engulfed the rugged shape of the peninsula as it rose to meet the twilight sky behind us, as the music played, softly and fittingly:

“Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer:

God bless America, land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above…” (Irving Berlin)