Savoring Summer #1: A Challenge and A Plan

thunderstorm at sunset“Thunderstorm at Sunset”

One of my favorite books of photography is called Looking for the Summer, by Jim Brandenburg, a renowned photographer of National Geographic fame, who just happens to live in Minnesota, too.  In it, he challenges himself to take one photo a day for an entire single summer, and the results are breathtaking.  If you want to drink up a lot of pure Minnesota-Boundary-Waters-themed summer beauty, it’s a book I highly recommend.

Now, I’m no Jim Brandenburg (all of his artistic work is top-quality, stunning and highly inspiring), but I thought I’d take up a similar but slightly scaled back challenge for myself this summer.  I’m going to attempt a photo-a-day for about six weeks!  This will necessarily be a project with a less writing, but instead I’d like to take you along on my other personal project for the summer: studying the book of Romans.  I’ll be sharing verses that stood out to me, and sometimes, as I have time and inspiration, thoughts to go with them.

If you’d like to join me, I’ll be using the free reading plan located at shereadstruth.com, which is a fabulous resource if you’re looking for ideas for Bible studies and reading plans!

Now, just as that great book of the Bible begins:

To all of you “loved by God, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7)

See you back here tomorrow!

 

 

Babies Don’t Keep

IMG_9991 edit.jpgI didn’t get out to walk as much as I normally like to this winter.  And for the first time in years, I didn’t even touch my skis, because by the time I got through postpartum recovery and felt up to getting on them again, the snow drifts were being measured in feet, not inches.  Even you avid skiers know how daunting breaking a trail through that is!

This is all the fault, of course, of a certain cute snuggly little guy who likes to hang out with (onto) me a lot lately.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t have hard feelings about it.  If you’ve ever had the privilege of being graced by one of his ready smiles, or gotten to rest your cheek on his downy head, well, then you know what I’m talking about.  He was worth it, and hey, running up and down the stairs to wash extra loads of baby laundry is exercise, too, right?  But it did mean that I didn’t take as many nature pictures.

Winter photography isn’t easy.  The days are shorter, the light dimmer and fleeting.  With so many of the living, moving things in hibernation, hidden beneath the snow, finding interesting subjects requires extra effort.  That being said, I truly enjoy the way winter photography challenges and stretches my creativity, and this year, I missed the way it always renews my appreciation for the quiet beauty of the season.IMG_9711 edit.jpgBut circumstances are never an excuse for failing to find joy.

So when I was looking wistfully at my untouched ski boots, or watching the light fall across the fields in a photogenic way that I wouldn’t be running out to capture as I have in the past, instead of giving into impatience or frustration, I learned to intentionally shift my mindset in two ways.

The first was to gain a deeper appreciation for what I was restricted from doing, realizing how often I have taken freedoms, hobbies and privileges for granted.  When you’re missing something, it’s not okay to complain and give in to discontentment, but it IS okay to remember it with pleasure, acknowledge it’s value, and be grateful for it in a way you probably haven’t been before.  

And the second?  To be fully appreciative of and present in the fleeting circumstances that created this restriction, because babies don’t keep.  To relish the snuggles instead of wishing away the nighttime feedings.  Winter will come again, but my son will never be this little again.  The dimpled fists clinging to my shirt are going to stretch out into the strong lean hands of a man, the chubby round cheeks I love to kiss are going to turn to manly stubble, the coos are going to turn into sentences, the giggles to guffaws.  The days of him squealing when I peek over the edge of his cradle in the morning, or his downy little head nodding to sleep on my shoulder are numbered.IMG_9771 edit.jpgAnd I learned to really savor few opportunities I did have to snap a photo.  These were taken while…

Hauling the camera along to the chicken coop to get a shot of the beautifully frosted windows while collecting eggs.

Rolling down the car window on the way to town to grab a shot of frosted pine branches.

Pausing for a quick photograph of the icicles above my head while airing my tires at the gas station.

On a rare walk, spotting the tracks of the multiple coyotes who had yapped in the field the night before.IMG_9743 edit.jpgIMG_9988 edit.jpgThere are a lot of parallels here to the strange times we’re living in right now.  A pandemic is weird, strange and scary, and we’re all feeling the effects of it one way or another.  We’re chafing because we can’t go places when we want to.  We’re missing people and faces and fellowship.  We’re disappointed at cancellations and postponements.  We miss the days when you didn’t feel like you were hazarding your life and everyone else’s every time you walk into the grocery store.  We’d really like to have a normal conversation again that didn’t contain the words mask, CDC or quarantine.

But circumstances are never an excuse for failing to find joy.

I hope that, instead of giving way to impatience and frustration at the unusual out-of-our-control limitations put on us this year, we can look for the good when it all seems bad.  That we can be more grateful for the freedom we had before, and not take it for granted when it returns.  That we can be intentional about using all that extra time at home.  That we can more creative, less apathetic.  That we can appreciate the opportunity to build stronger relationships with immediate family members, and the blessed simplicity of being forced to slow down.  That we can learn to value the right things, and put less value on the things that don’t really matter.IMG_9972 edit.jpgNormal life will return eventually, but while you’re waiting, don’t miss the unique gifts and blessings that God may have for you during this pandemic.  When we look back on 2020 in years to come, let’s be grateful that we learned new good lessons and lived this strange and memorable year well, instead of regretful that we spent it chafing for it to end.

“For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

 

Super Blood Wolf Moon

IMG_3766 edit 1.jpg10:20 PM CST, nearly fully eclipsed, after which my camera decided it didn’t care to focus at -30 F.

The name may seem dramatic, but it was really just a full lunar eclipse (“blood” for the reddish-brown color it turns), in January (“wolf” by the Native American calendar), on a night when the moon was closer to the earth than usual (“super”).

Which, perhaps, is amazing enough to deserve such a dramatic title.

“God is my King from of old, working salvation on the earth…The day is His, and His also the night; He established the sun and moon.” (Psalm 74:12,16)

 

A Psalm for Spring

IMG_8807.JPGBlessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, IMG_8502-1.jpgnor stands in the way of sinners,IMG_8506.JPGnor sits in the seat of scoffers;IMG_8650.JPGbut his delight is in the law of the Lord,and on his law he meditates day and night.IMG_8554.JPGHe is like a tree planted by streams of waterIMG_8520
that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.IMG_8830In all that he does, he prospers.IMG_8497-1
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.IMG_8352Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
IMG_8236.JPGfor the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

(Psalm 1)

Declaring the Glory

IMG_5961.JPGIMG_5939IMG_5962-1.jpgIt was a long, happy weekend of giving thanks.  During family dinner as the silverware clinked on fine china, then again later as wedges of pie were passed, between friends, during joyful church services and into microphones, I heard people express gratefulness for so many beautiful things.

Some were humorously indicative of current life situations, such as…

“Getting 24-hour flu instead of a prolonged cold.”

“All the snow melting so I don’t have to plow.”

“Lefse.”

“Baby sleeping through the night.” 

Others were sweetly tearful, deeply emotional, such as…

“Healing.”

Long lists of volunteer services.

“A phone call from a long lost family member.”

“You.”

After all the feasting and gathering was over, I took an evening walk under leaden skies, picking my way along the the icy ruts of our driveway as I mentally added a few more things to the list, like:

“Cartons of freshly laid brown eggs in my fridge.”

“Homemade brown sugar hazelnut lattes.”

“The sound of little feet pitter-pattering down the hall.”

It was a wonderfully cheering thing to do on an otherwise drab evening.  But then this happened:IMG_5894.JPGIMG_5900.JPG The dim, dreary skies lit unexpectedly up with all this splendor that kept going and going and going and wouldn’t stop.  I paused to notice the first flush of pink, and then stopped to watch in awe as it spread and rippled and flamed across the entire canopy of the heavens curving over my world.  Then the coyotes started to yap far off in the forest, and I thought about the fact that there’s more than one way to make your voice heard.

People say it with words, the animals with their own unique sounds, the sky with color, each one declaring thanks and glory.  Yes, glory!

For the small things, for the large things, in all things.

To God, our Creator, Giver, Sustainer.

Because giving thanks really is just another way of giving glory.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

“All Your works shall give thanks to You, O LORD, And Your godly ones shall bless You.” (Psalm 145:10)

The Colors of Summer

IMG_4098-1.jpgWhether the calendar says so or not, the last day of August always seems like the last day of summer to me—and seeing that always makes me kind of sad.  Nothing against fall or even the coming winter, mind you.  I truly love the changing seasons.  It’s just that summer in Minnesota is somehow just a little briefer than the other seasons, and I never quite manage to get in all the swimming and fresh peaches on ice cream that I want to before it’s time to pull out the sweaters and hot cocoa again.

As sort of a solace for this, I decided to look back over my photos from the summer months to remind myself of what we did do—and in the process, I found a rainbow.  See if you can see it, too!IMG_2193.JPGIMG_3463.JPGIMG_1792.JPGRed is for ripe wild strawberries discovered along fence rows, sweet and warm with sunshine…

and roses outside of bakeries that smell of gingerbread

and poppies along the chicken coop.

IMG_4030.JPG img_2209.jpgIMG_3892Orange is for a monarch butterfly, minutes old, clinging trustingly to my wide-eyed daughter’s finger…

and the one weed in my yard that I don’t mind…

and flower arrangements in my mother-in-law’s bathroom.

IMG_1811.JPGIMG_3920.JPGimg_9624.jpgYellow is for the elegant beards of irises…

and the freckled faces of the lilies along the porch…

and the not-quite-so showy roadside weeds that nevertheless delight the avid, amateur flower-pickers in my family.IMG_2944-1IMG_2226IMG_4721.JPGGreen is for sun-dappled woodland ferns…

and black-eyed Susans not quite open…

and water droplets on nasturtium leaves.IMG_1629.JPGIMG_4065-1IMG_2420.JPGBlue is for swan families floating on riffles of water…

and plump round berries the color of the sky going plink-plunk in pails…

and bobolinks singing on telephone wires against the morning sky.IMG_4096IMG_2882IMG_2300.JPGPurple is for brilliant masses of fireweed…

and stormy skies at sunset…

and blue flags along the creek.

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

View From a Hammock

IMG_1341There’s a breeze coming in off the lake, this hot afternoon in early June.  There’s blue sky smiling down at me through a lacy frame of green, green leaves.  Summer is in the air, and I am, appropriately, drinking it in from the luxury of an airy vacation hammock.  If the air is full of summer, the views are no less so—and so I offer you these vignettes, all visible, more or less, from my leisurely post.IMG_1467A kayak,

slice of orange against the liquid lake,

dreams of sliding through fleets of miniature maroon lily pads,

suspended on the dainty ropes of their anchored stems,

beneath the deep shadowy green of overhanging trees.IMG_1451A jeweled beetle climbs relentlessly upwards

as small hands tip a stick back and forth

and inquisitive eyes watch in fascination,

filling with tears when it finally loses patience

and flies away.IMG_1208Relentless waves

wash a thousand coiled empty snail shells

all the miles

down the long lake.

They come to rest here,

on this smooth spit of sand suddenly rising to block their path—

and so it becomes their final resting place.

And then, chubby baby hands clutch them tightly,

turning them around and around

and over and over

in sheer enjoyment of the sensory shape.IMG_1318IMG_1475 IMG_1474Bare feet,

sandy,

dripping wet,

run up and down long flights of stairs,

earning the right to ice cream cones and fat slices of watermelon.IMG_1359IMG_1415Ducks dabble along the quiet green edges.

A family of geese tests the calm waters of evening,

with a babysitter in tow, just in case.IMG_1412Great clouds sail sedately by,

swimmers leaning back against the cushion of a swim trampoline,

squinting into the sunshine to watch them mesmerized,

rocked in the cradle of the waves,

laughing at a joke I’m too far away to hear.

And I leave my hammock to go join them.  Because if there’s anything possibly better than celebrating our Father’s good gift of a beautiful day in the stillness of your own soul, it’s celebrating it with others.

“We were like those who dream…then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting…The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.” (Psalm 126:1-3)

“I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.” (Psalm 52:9)

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Thunder Moon and Lunar Links

IMG_1567.JPGThe Thunder Moon doesn’t technically occur until July, but if ever such a name was appropriate for a full moon, it was this one.  It seemed to rest and roll along the tops of this magnificent soaring June thunderhead at sunset, like some whimsical bright ball up there bouncing down cloud stairways.  As I watched from the porch steps, the billowing cloud rumbled faintly and the liquid gulping of a bittern echoed along the lake shore as dusk slowly fell—and I thought about David’s words:

“I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.  For you steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.  Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!  Let your glory be over all the earth!” (Psalm 57:9-11)

IMG_1569.JPGAnd, while we’re on the topic of the moon, just for the fun of it, I thought I’d share a few interesting lunar-themed links I’ve happened across recently.  Hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Here’s an interesting article on how each month’s full moon got it’s name.

Read this book by Astronaut James Irwin for a first-hand, uniquely Christian perspective on the first landing on the moon—it’s full of pictures and fascinating!

Actual video clips and audio from that first landing, with some unexpected lightheartedness.  “Hippity hop and over a hill…”

Sometimes I feel like this, too when waiting for the moon to rise.

Moon phases explained, with Oreos.

Once in a blue moon, you should eat a blue moon torte.  But ever wondered where that phrase “once in a blue moon” came from?  Click on the torte photo or here to find out.

If you could read French, this would be a spectacular lunar treat to create.

If you’re as fond of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’, and Horatio Spoffard’s ‘It Is Well With My Soul’ as I am, you should listen to this.

And just in case you missed it, a previous post of mine about the Harvest Moon, and another about the Wolf Moon.

 

 

 

The Light Has Come

img_8625“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined…

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

Praise the Lord—because He came, we can each truly have a…

Merry Christmas!

 

When I Consider the Heavens…

northern lights / rejoicing hillsnorthern lights and the moon / rejoicing hillsOn the evening of the 22nd, moving into the wee hours of the 23rd, we stood outside, oblivious to the mosquitoes (and believe me, it takes some pretty incredible distraction to make that possible right now), and watched one of the most spectacular displays of northern lights we’ve ever seen.  They were everywhere, around and above us, even into the south, dancing and pulsating and rippling across the diamond-studded velvet of the night sky in glowing whites and greens.  We were in awe.

As you may have guessed from the title of this post, there’s really only one passage in Scripture in my mind that comes close to describing the thoughts and emotions running through my head on a night like this—and in honor of the wonder that left me speechless, I will say no more and let classic opening lines of this ancient Psalm of David speak for me.northern lights / rejoicing hills“O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens…northern lights over farm / rejoicing hillsWhen I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained…northern lights / rejoicing hillsWhat is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?”  (Psalm 8:1, 3-4)northern lights / rejoicing hillsAnd to that all I can say is wow—and amen!