Hands-on learning is, hands down, my favorite part of home education. Experiencing something is the icing on the cake for learning anything. You don’t usually forget things you actually experience in a meaningful way like you might a list of names and dates in a book. My goal for school is to provide as many of these as possible for my kids.
This week, I happened to see that the forecast for the aurora borealis was favorable, coinciding with a string of cold, clear nights in southeast Alaska. This is when we’re glad for the long nights, because it was dark early enough that we headed out at 6 PM to what I hoped would be an ideal unobstructed aurora viewing spot (it was), sat out there for about an hour and a half, and I still had everyone home and headed to bed by 8:30. Admittedly, the aurora were not as good as I was hoping for. There was not a lot of movement and a bright half moon provided some competition in the west. Nevertheless, the northern lights were distinctly visible, it was the first time my younger daughters had seen them, and they were thrilled.
We also got in some good stargazing. We spotted a couple meteorites, and I showed the girls how the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper are actually part of Ursa Major (Big Bear—pictured above) and Ursa Minor (Little Bear), and how to find Orion. When we needed to take a break to warm up in the car, we’d peek at our Stargazer’s Guide to the Night Sky for more inspiration and sip from the thermos of the special-occasion-only hot chocolate (not to be confused with hot cocoa) I’d brought along. It was such a simple, yet satisfying outing!
Our next excursion of the week involved searching for that perfect Christmas tree. I had to chuckle when I saw a wanted ad on one of our local online buy-sell-trade groups, someone new to the island asking where they might find an inexpensive tree, and reading the comments from locals chiming in to say, “They’re free along every road; grab a saw and take your pick!” That’s exactly what we did…or at least what we set out to do. If you want the full story, you can ask Zach. I’m just here to say the snow and the mountains were looking extra lovely while we searched!
And as the countdown to Christmas has begun, I’ve been taking the time as much as I can in the midst of the swell of feasting, fun and activity to think about this:
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:14, 10-12)
“And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them,“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives Me, and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent me.” (Mark 9:36-37)
I was thinking about this passage in light of being a mother this week, and also with the other children God has placed in my life—my children’s friends, the kids I babysit, the kids we meet at church and community activities and the grocery store.
Would my interaction with any of these little ones change if I was really, truly taking this to heart? Would yours? Something to think about.
About the photos: I’m sorry if how I titled this post made you think you were getting pictures of fish eggs, and now you are disappointed. Perhaps that will happen eventually, but for now, let me introduce those of you who aren’t from southeast Alaska to what is locally known as “fish egg weather”. It is the time of early spring which coincides with the herring spawn, and is known for crazy weather switches all in one day. You know, those rain turns to snow turns to sunshine kind of days. We have morning rainbows, followed by the first flocks of spring robins arriving in mid-morning snowstorms, followed by a beautiful afternoon of sunshine. (That was a true story, by the way.) It’s very confusing, but also very hopeful because it is the Beginning of Spring.
P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!
“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.
Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely.
I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land.
You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.
I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you.
You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new.
I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you.
And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” (Leviticus 26:3-12)
While it’s important to remember that this is a specific promise to the Israelite people, what I found beautiful about this passage was what it told me about the high value that God places on obedience and following His ways.
This is still true of God, by the way, and we’re not exempt from this principle. We have our own promises of the blessings of obedience. Here’s just one of them:
“Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
About the photos: Most of our snow at the lower elevations has disappeared—and finally some of the back roads and trails are accessible again! I was so excited about this and the beautiful sunny weather that I hiked two trails this week. You can see part of the town of Thorne Bay in the first overlook photo, and a bird’s eye view of the town of Craig on the other side of the island in the last photo. I was literally looking down at soaring eagles here. Also pictured, a couple of the highest peaks on Prince of Wales where there’s snow year-round!
P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!
“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations formy name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.
And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.
But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:6-14)
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this passage in Matthew just “happened” to be a part of my Bible reading plan this week. As we hear real, live reports of war in our world, it is a great comfort to know that God is in control and no matter what happens, in the end He is the victor.
Meanwhile, I pray for our brother and sisters who must suffer and rise to challenges that I have never dreamed of, living in the sobering reality that this world will never know true, lasting peace until Jesus is King.
“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”—Albert Einstein
There are some decided advantages to having some firsts in life delayed until you’re well into adulthood. The best part is that for a few fleeting glorious minutes, you can experience a flashback to the sensation of pure childlike wonder. At least that was what it was like for me to fly for the first time at age 35.
If I thought about it too deeply, I would admit that it takes quite a bit of faith and trust to buckle yourself into the narrow seat of a 737, and believe that 130-170,000 pounds of steel, fuel and humans is going lift up into the air and soar to 40,000 feet above the clouds. Before 1903, you would have laughed at me for even suggesting the idea.
Now, as the engines began to roar and we taxied toward the runway, I looked around to see people already calmly reading books, taking naps and playing Scrabble as though what was about to happen was as ordinary an everyday occurrence for them as brushing their teeth and combing their hair. I was not afraid, either, having grown up a hundred years after the Wright brothers, in an era when safe and successful air travel is normalized. But this was still my first time, and what I was experiencing that no one else seemed to be was excitement.
When we rushed forward and the wheels lifted from the pavement, it was every bit as exhilarating as I’d ever imagined. There was a blissfully lightening sensation, as though we’d left our weight down on the ground instead of taking it with us. The sun was just setting, the blue evening clouds lying wispy over the Minneapolis terminal—and suddenly we were rising right through them. One minute we were beneath, for a split second we were passing through them, the next we were above. It was just close enough to dusk that the city lights twinkled just a little and winked at me as they faded out of sight. The sun was setting in a blaze of pink, and then we were chasing it to the west as we rose higher and higher, unwilling to let it go.
For over an hour and a half, I watched that sunset as we throttled through a thinner atmosphere at 500 MPH. It was the longest sunset I have ever watched in my life. Eventually, we started to lose the chase and I saw Venus blink sleepily on just above the final streak of fuchsia, then steadily shine brighter as the night turned from velvet blue to black. The clouds were thick dark cotton below us, but every once in a while, they parted and I caught sight of the miniscule lit grid of a town far, far below.
On ensuing flights over the course of the trip, the wonders only increased. I kept catching my breath, awed by how different and beautiful Earth looked from up so high.
I got to watch the sun rise at 40,000 feet, bathing the tops of the rain clouds a sea of perfect conch shell pink for miles beneath us. The clouds parted and I saw misty fjords, and a sea of snowy peaks. I saw the full moon sinking into the ocean. I saw the fine white line of a road carving the edge of a ridge, and a raft of massive logs that looked like a collection of toothpicks afloat on the sparkling sea. I saw geometric forms of fields, perfect squares and circles.
I saw massive cracks in the ice of great rivers and majestic forests looking like nothing more than a carpet of soft dark moss and billows of snow patterned like waves across the plains. I saw semi trucks moving like ants on freeways that looked like mere threads. I saw the tiniest toy barns that I could only barely identify as red. It was a whole new perspective on this giant spinning ball I call home.
The world in my mind has often tended to look more like the maps in the atlas on our book shelf, with political boundaries neatly surrounding pastel blocks of color. But up there, peering down in wonder out of my tiny window, I was reminded that what I was seeing from my bird’s eye view was a whole lot more accurate to what God sees. He sees the big picture in the actual rich earth toned palette He painted it, how each part fits and flows together seamlessly and meaningfully to create the gorgeous masterpiece ball of Earth.
He sees the pair of swans talking to themselves as they build their nest at the mouth of the unnamed creek that flows into Stone Axe Lake, which flows in Little Sand Lake and out into the Bowstring River, which flows into the Bigfork River, which flows into the Rainy River, which snakes its way all the way up to the Hudson Bay and empties into the Atlantic Ocean, which laps at the edges of Iceland and Florida and South Africa, and makes ice around the shores of Antarctica that melts into the Pacific which crashes its mighty waves against the rocks of Patagonia, kisses the warm shores of Mexico and carries the salmon up the fjords of Prince of Wales Island to spawn in the Thorne River.
He who pinched up the points of the mountain ranges, formed the oceans with the imprint of His thumb, carved the delicate calligraphy of the rivers with His pen, holds this whole spinning magnificent world in His hands. But the best part is that He can see all this in one swift glance, while at the same time, He zooms in and sees the sparrow that falls, and the state of my heart, and yours, and all the hearts of 7.8 billion human beings created in His image and running around like tiny ants on the surface of this globe—and He knows and longs after each one by name.
Up there in that silver plane with the blue stripes on its wings, I felt small in the best way possible, dwarfed by vast magnificence of the world, and in awe that I was of any account at all, let alone beloved by its Creator.
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:3-9)
If I’ve learned anything about trusting the Lord in my 35 years of life, it’s that I still have a lot to learn about trusting the Lord.
For some reason, whenever I come out on the backside of a trial, I am naïve enough to think that after having learned to trust God in that circumstance, I will surely have no difficulties with trusting Him in the future. But then along comes a different unexpected circumstance, and too often I am surprised by my lack of faith, as I find myself wildly groping about for all my self-made crutches, brainstorming secular solutions and free falling into anxiety.
Up rises the skeptic of my soul to question God yet again: You were big enough for that last problem I had, but are You really big enough for this one? Just in case You hadn’t noticed, it’s a new problem, Lord. This one’s extra hard and scary. Can You really handle it? Are You sure You don’t need help from me on this one?
It’s a question as old as Eden. Hath God really said? Can He really be believed?Does He really know what’s best? And too often I am swayed by these whispers of doubt, and bite hard into the apple of anxiety.
To recognize the echo of Eve in my soul is humbling.
By definition, trust requires one to let go, and by nature, we humans are tight-fisted. Trusting God means admitting that I don’t have it all together. That I’m not as self-sufficient as I liked to imagine. That I have lost control. That I lack wisdom. That behind the strong, capable exterior I may have projected, I am actually weak and needy.
There is a killing of pride and self that must occur when I make the decision to trust God, and no matter how you look at it, killing always hurts. And in the case of trust, it seems like it often has to happen more than once in a given situation. As Paul said, “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31), and as Jesus said, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24).
But there’s an encouraging side to this, too. Though letting go to lean into trust is always hard, it also gets easier. The more times I’ve peeled back the fingers of my white knuckled hold on whatever it is that I’m trying to handle on my own and can’t, the more times I have proven the goodness and mercy of God. The longer the list of times I have chosen to lean hard on Him instead of my self, the harder it is to resist doing it again.
When I look back, I remember…
that time He provided for my unspoken needs,
that time He moved a figurative mountain,
that time He gave grace to accept,
that time He gave a miracle,
that time He brought beauty from ashes,
that time when He transformed fear into anticipation,
that time He took away something that I did not recognize as harmful until after the fact,
that time He had far more beautiful things in store for me than I could ever have imagined.
The overriding truth is that, in each circumstance, no matter what the outcome, He was always faithful, and proved yet again that He was worthy of my trust.
Today, looking back on what has been proven and looking forward to what is yet unknown, I rest on the assurance that He is enough.
“…the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:6)
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” (Isaiah 26:3-4)
On Christmas Day 2019, with doting aunties and grandmas hovering round, my firstborn son turned two months old. I’d spent the previous weeks nursing him beneath the lights of the Christmas tree, often twinkling over us in the wee hours when the rest of the household was slumbering. And on those nights, as his little head nodded downy and drowsy down onto my shoulder, I thought a lot about the first Christmas. I feel like I understand how it might have been for Mary so much better now because of him.
I had it all planned out, you know. Our fourth child would be born peacefully at home, surrounded by the birthing professionals I had carefully chosen and built a relationship with over the last nine months. The birthing pool was sitting in the living room, ready for the moment I told Zach, “It’s time!” to be filled, tiny cord clamps and other medical supplies waiting in a box nearby for the midwife’s arrival. A pretty robe was hanging up, waiting for me to slip into after labor for first pictures with my new little one. Our bedroom was clean and ready, tiny baby newborn-sized clothes laid out on the changing table, one small pile of pink and one small pile of blue, and a pile of neutral in between awaiting the big gender reveal. My mom was ready to drop everything when the phone rang to come whisk our other children away until after the birth.I imagine that Mary had plans, too, those 2000 years ago. She, too, probably envisioned her child being born in the comfort of her own home, perhaps assisted by the wise old midwife who had helped every baby in Nazareth enter the world for the last 40 years, her mother nearby to hold her hand and offer encouragement during the frightening pangs of her first labor. The swaddling clothes were laid out next to the beautiful cradle her carpenter husband had crafted, and certainly, she had dreamed that the event would be at least nine months after her wedding day to her betrothed.
But things didn’t go according to plan, mine or hers.For me, what was supposed to be a trip into town for a routine prenatal turned into a trip to the hospital for induction after an unexpected diagnosis of preeclampsia. We arrived weary, after midnight and a long evening of testing and being shuffled between towns and hospitals. A doctor I had never seen before agreed to make room for me in her schedule because the situation was considered urgent. The unexpected circumstances were such that I arrived with nothing but the clothes on my back and my purse. No camera, no toiletries or changes of clothing, none of the small comforts and baby things I had so carefully arranged back home. I gave birth in a borrowed gown, surrounded by more strangers than not, an awkward but necessary blood pressure cuff attached to my arm and the foreign sound of monitors beeping. My firstborn son was wrapped in a hospital-issued swaddle instead of the little clothes sitting back at home. He was laid in a rolling baby cart of stainless steel and plastic labeled “Baby Ender” instead of the wooden-spindled cradle under the window in my bedroom.For Mary, the honor and wonder of being with child by the Holy Ghost looked unfortunately too much like a shameful out-of-wedlock birth to her neighbors. She received snubs and nasty gossip instead of congratulations. The wedding—after the fact—was very nearly called off. Caesar Augustas in Rome did not take due dates into account when he ordered an empire-wide census. A long, arduous trip kicked off labor. They arrived weary in an unfamiliar town where they knew nobody, too late for a premium room at the inn. They were stuck sleeping with animals on a night when she labored as a first-time mother, undoubtedly longing for comfort and familiarity more than any other night in her life. If anyone assisted her in birth besides Joseph, it was certainly a stranger, pulled in at the last minute for the emergency. A manger stood in for the hand-crafted cradle back home.
And yet in both of our cases, in spite of all the upset plans, the most important thing did go as planned:
A baby boy was pushed safely out into the world, opened his mouth with a healthy squall, and blinked his sleepy eyes to look up into his mother’s face for the very first time. The pain was forgotten. It didn’t matter who was there, or where we were, if there were monitors beeping or animals lowing. All that mattered was that our child was born.And all was well, because God was there.
For you in whatever unplanned circumstances you didn’t ask for this year, like celebrating the holiday in isolation, sick in the hospital, or mourning the loss of a loved one. God is with you.
Never forget that this is the true meaning of Christmas.“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
In some places in the country, I’m seeing pictures of blossoming peach orchards, daffodils and greening grass. On the first day of spring here, it snowed in the morning—and then a bitter wind spent the rest of the day kicking all that snow up into the air in great billowing clouds, forcing us to plow the driveway due to drifting. If you live here, too, you’re not surprised or alarmed. It’s a typical Minnesota weather move.
I made the mistake of announcing that it was the first day of spring to my children. I meant it tongue in cheek, of course, but later in the day, they informed me that they had packed up all the ski boots and put them away in the basement. “Whatever for?” I inquired in surprise, because cross country skiing has been something they’ve really enjoyed as recently as the day before. “Because you said it was spring now, Mom!” Oops. So we had a little educational session on equinoxes and lengths of days, but they just looked at me, puzzled, as if to say, “Mom, everyone knows that spring is a temperature, not a day on the calendar.”
I was going to do a post entitled “First Day of Spring”, featuring pussy willows, which appeared during one fleeting warm spell a couple weeks ago. But when I finally got out to take the pictures, what I got instead was this ironic juxtaposition of seasons. I may have been taking pictures of pussy willows, but what it really felt like was just the next day of winter.Much as we’d sometimes like it to be, spring just isn’t a day on the calendar for us. It’s no short, sweet announcement. Instead, it’s a slow thing, that creeps up, teases, eludes. But still, watching spring unfold, painfully slow but sure, gives me hope—which is something we all need a little bit more of right now.
All over the world, people are facing lockdowns, quarantines, alarming numbers of the ill and the dead mounting, economies teetering in uncertainty. Everyone’s ready for it to be over with, but at this point it still looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better. We cling to the hope that things are going to ease up eventually, but when? People keep guessing, but the truth is, nobody really knows. Watching for the end of this thing involves no set date on a calendar, much as we’d like it to. It’s a whole lot more like living through March in Minnesota: when it feels like itshouldbe the end of a long winter, but sometimes we just keep getting more snowstorms instead. What we do know, however, is that winter always does end, and spring always does come, because the God who put the seasons into motion has promised that they will remain in steady motion as long as the earth shall endure.
“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”(Genesis 8:22)
Sometimes it’s a little sooner, sometimes it’s a little later, but nobody ever wonders if. Just when. And the same God who keeps His promise to sustain the rhythm of seasons, has also given us these promises:
“…And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)Remember: no matter how long this current trouble lasts, He is still in control and present in all these things. Watch for Him at work, and you will surely see Him.
Not when the trouble’s gone, but right there in the midst of the turmoil—
like the pussy willows budding resilient in the falling snow…
like the little ducks bravely coming back to paddle along the melting edges of icy creeks…
like the two patient white lumps posted on our frozen lake, splendid swans trumpeting in triumph as they patiently await the thaw.
I 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.But 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.And 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.There 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.Normal 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)