Farewell to Winter

IMG_4065 editIMG_4046 editFarewell to watching the snow banks mount to the window sills and the thermometer drop out of sight,

to pulling elastic snow pants cuffs down over small boots,

to snow caves, snow men, and snow angels,

to a world that sparkles like a thousand diamonds in the sunshine,

to stepping in unexpected snow water puddles in stocking feet.

IMG_3886 editIMG_4176 editIMG_3888 editFarewell to the sometimes exquisite, always relentless work of the winter wind, 

to the battle for an open driveway,

to the endlessly shifting sea of snow dunes,

to snow banners off the shed roof.IMG_3911 editFarewell to rainbow sun dogs,

to silver moonlight on midnight blankets of snow,

to Orion, that great starry hunter,

and to the way he and all the rest of the host of heaven twinkles most splendidly on the bitterest of winter nights.IMG_3868 editIMG_4095 editFarewell to conjuring up baking projects just for the sake of making the kitchen cozy,

to scooping up great bowls of freshly-fallen snow to make snow ice cream,

to in-season citrus in the refrigerator drawer,

to rosy-cold cheeks bent appreciatively over steaming hot drinks.IMG_4056 editIMG_4048 editFarewell to the best and longest ski season in years,

to solo breaking trails through the sunset fields,

to swishing beneath the low-hung golden-green cedars while the swans murmur to each other along the banks of a laughing river,

to laughing with friends through the trials of sticky afternoon snow,

to the great frontier of yet-unexplored trails that must now wait until next season.IMG_2945 editIMG_3497 editFarewell to the long dark of winter evenings,

to dinners made elegant by candlelight,

to laps made warm by quilting projects,

to chapters read aloud by lamplight,

to games played late with old friends, and new.img_4154-edit.jpgFarewell to winter.

Welcome to spring.

“You have established all the boundaries of the earth; You have made summer and winter.” (Psalm 74:17)

 

The Tracks We Leave Behind

IMG_8091I’m standing at the back of a church sanctuary.  The overflow area has been opened, and they’re setting up more chairs.  The front is packed; more people are filing in to fill the back rows.  The stage is overflowing with flowers, plants and one stuffed bobcat.  And I think to myself: this is the picture of a life well lived.

Of course, as everyone says, Arnie was a bit of legend.  I just sit back in awe and listen to the stories of a man who knew the forest for miles around like the back of his hand, who just as intimately knew the ways of the creatures who lived in it.  His was the spirit of the pioneers, rugged and determined, undeterred, even buoyed, by the prospect of challenge or hard work.  He waded the twining maze of ponds and creeks, walked the trails for miles, and worked willingly with his hands, comfortable with the strength of his own arms above the convenience of mechanics.  If anyone has ever lived out that Biblical exhortation—“make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands.” (1 Thess. 4:11)—Arnie certainly did.IMG_9783There will always be a picture in my mind of Arnie, from my frequent viewpoint at the piano, that lean figure over by the east windows in his preferred row at church, denim jacket peppered with Trappers Association patches, big grin spreading from ear to ear.

Considering the sort of man he was, I knew I’d received a high compliment the Sunday he came up to me, shaking his head and grinning from ear to ear, to tell me he was impressed.  Earlier that week, in sheer desperation, I’d used a shotgun for the first time in my life to kill the groundhog menacing my vegetable garden, with a single (lucky) shot, and he’d heard the tale.  I remember thinking that maybe I could be a little proud of myself if I’d managed to impress a man like Arnie Peterson.

I ate a wonderful pie once made entirely of wild berries Arnie picked, made by his wife who shook her head when she described how he just kept “coming in with more”.

I remember Arnie in hip waders at the side of the road, not too engrossed in his labor of hoisting all manner of mysterious trapping gear into the back of his truck to wave jauntily over his back.  He didn’t even know who he was waving at.  He just waved because that’s what Arnie did.

And how could I forget the time Arnie knocked at my back door, grinning from ear to ear again, to tell me I had to come see the beaver he’d just pulled out of the lake in front of our house?  Of course, I walked out to admire the flat-tailed, yellow-toothed giant lying in state in the back of his pickup truck, and listened to the full tale of how he’d finally caught the culprit that had been felling our poplar trees.IMG_9776Yes, Arnie was a legend, and I’m sure that had something to do with the number of people flowing through the church doors on this March afternoon.  But there was something else, too.  There have been other skilled woodsmen who have lived and died as crusty, crabby old men.  For all their amazing practical knowledge, their circle of friends remained small, their influence narrow. 

No, this was more than a circle of mere admirers.  These people were not here based merely on the (staggering) number of ermine, muskrat and bobcat he’d trapped in his lifetime.  They were here because Arnie made tracks in their lives.  Not the hippity-hoppity sort of a rabbit bounding across the snow or the measured tread of a wolf in creek-side mud, but that elusive kind that is not to be found on the forest floor.  It was the kind that sinks in, makes an impression and stays long after the trapping stories fade into folklore-dom.

Because Arnie loved Jesus, and so the love of Jesus filled him and spilled out into the lives of those he came in contact with.

Because Arnie could quote John 3:16, and would use it to preach the simple and beautiful gospel message.

Because Arnie would love to bow his head with you and help you pray the sinner’s prayer.

Because Arnie knew, and let those around him know, that his last breath on earth would be his first in heaven—and he hoped to see you there.IMG_7238 editI’m sad that Arnie will never get to teach my children about the tracks of fisher, bobcat and mink as we’d discussed after church only one week before he went home.  We never suspected that he’d made his last trek through one of those double doors so soon, and as abruptly as a rabbit trail ends in the wing-print of an owl, be off to praise his Maker in person.  But he’s left his own tracks of far greater worth across the landscape of our church and community, that will not be obscured by tomorrow’s snowfall, and will bear fruit into eternity—and for that, we’re all grateful.

“Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in His commandments…his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD…[he] will be remembered forever.” (Psalm 112:1,7,6)

“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32)

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)

Sunlight and Shadows

IMG_9241.JPGWhen the winter days are so terribly short in the first place, one is all the more grateful for the sunshine when it blazes.  The last few days have been gloriously full of light, and I went out into it as often as I could, cutting new ski trails through the woods and hardly needing a coat, so warm I’d become between the exertion and the sunshine.  It’s so easy to love winter when the fresh snow is sparkling and billowy, and the sun sets in a blaze of fire at the end of each day.

These are the kind of days where I can go out and be completely content taking photos of nothing but the shadows across the snow, mesmerized by the art created by such simple combinations of the trees and a low-blazing sun.  It was a wonderland of artful graphic design, wind texture, trunk stripes and interlocking branch lace, painted across the sweeping canvas of sparkling unmarred snow.  I hated to ruin any of it with a ski trail—but then there would always be an even more inspiring display of shadow around the next curve in the trail.img_9245IMG_9251-1.jpgBut then there is today, when a warm snap is melting sad dirty spots in the plowed snow banks and the sky is one solid wash of nondescript gray.  The light filtering foggily through those clouds is so diffused, there aren’t any shadows.  This, I must admit, is not quite so inspiring.  And it’s strange how easy it is to let one’s mood swing with it.

And then, I am reminded, in a funny sort of way, of what my eldest daughter said when she prayed before supper the other night:

“Dear Lord, thank you for chicken, and squash, and milk…and something that I don’t know what it is.  Amen.”

My husband and I exchanged amused glances.  There was no doubt that she was referring to the helping of cream sautéed cabbage I had spooned onto her plate just before we bowed our heads, at which she had wrinkled her nose uncertainly.  In a familiar, happy world of bright orange buttercup squash with puddles of melting butter, cold glasses of milk and roasted chicken crusted with fragrant herbs, this limp pile of beige and brown was getting a low rating indeed.

But, to our surprise, she included it in her list of thank yous anyway.  It was different and unappealing, but she said thank you.  (Later, she was to find that her first impressions were all wrong, that cabbage sauteed in cream was actually really good.)

And I was convicted.  Gray days and dirty snowbanks are perhaps as uninspiring to me as creamed cabbage is unappetizing to a 4-year-old—but do I say thank you for them as readily as she did?  Do I trust that all the things my heavenly Father puts on my plate are for my good?  Cabbage, gray skies…or otherwise?  Do you?

“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

 

 

 

 

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