Best of Both Worlds

IMG_6148.JPGIs it Christmas lights?  Is it snow?

Yes.

Inside the house, our Christmas tree with the big white origami star brushing the ceiling is twinkling bright; outside the snow lies “deep and crisp and even”*.  In the reflection of the cold windowpane, I can see both at once.  It’s the best of both of my December worlds: all the warmth of a joyful holiday celebration mingled with the wide white expanse of winter’s best accessory, now richly blue in the falling dusk.

It’s also an appropriately symbolic picture of Christmas, considering that the One whose birth we celebrate this week was also the very best of both worlds.  Not of indoors and outdoors, but of heaven and earth.

If I could show you a picture of Him, you might ask:

Is He God?  Is He man?

Yes.

May the marvel of this mystery fill you with thoughtful joy and wonder this Christmas!

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

 

*From the carol “Good King Wenceslas” by John Mason Neale.

 

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)

Winter Fun

IMG_5779-1.jpgRun, slide, repeat.

That’s what I and the otters did last week, I on my skis, they out on the ice, each in our own way celebrating the return of glorious winter to the northwoods.  That early November snow was some of the finest I’ve ever been privileged to make a trail through, and judging from their antics across the lake, perhaps the ice was, too?  Anyway, we certainly seemed to be agreed on the idea that all this cold stuff was meant to be enjoyed!

Then, as the sun lowered on the horizon, they’d run off in a companionable row, as you see them above, straight into their cozy den, and I’d swish my way back to my warm little house to wrap my cold fingers around a hot mug and sip steaming sweetness.  IMG_5812.JPGAh, winter with all your juxtapositions of icy beauty and cozy routines—how glad I and my sleek fun-loving neighbors are to welcome you back!

And speaking of fun, thank you to each one of you who played along in my little guessing game a couple posts back!  In case you forgot or missed the post, I asked people to guess the book of the Bible where the “psalm” I used in the post was found, as well as which photo was taken in the city rather than the country.

The correct answers were: 1) the book of Daniel (2:19-23, if you want to look it up!) and 2) the first photo of bright red snake root vines.  Unfortunately, nobody quite managed to guess both correctly, so I shall have to reserve my promised prizes for a later date!  (So if you’re terribly disappointed about that, I’m sorry, but stay tuned for another chance!)

If nothing else, it was just fun for me to see who actually reads my blog.  And, by the way, that goes for every time someone takes the time to comment, whether here or on Facebook.  It’s a tiny bit of thoughtful encouragement that always makes my day, and I’m grateful!

“A man has joy in an apt answer, And how delightful is a timely word!” (Proverbs 15:23)

 

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.

Crocuses in the Snow

IMG_0723.JPGIt really wouldn’t have been a proper Minnesota April (or May?) without a good snowstorm, now would it have been?  Besides, I needed proof that crocuses really do bloom under such circumstances.  They seem no worse for the wear for it—and I don’t suppose any of the rest of us are either.  But just in case you were struggling with the idea of snow and cold after so long a stretch of warm weather—or even struggling with some other frustration or trial that has nothing to do with snow—consider this admonition of how to live that these brave little flowers model well:

“Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation…” (Romans 12:12)

Or this one:

“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16)

Just a friendly reminder that “everything” really does mean every thing, and “tribulation” applies to the little things just as well as the big things.  Be patient, be grateful—and enjoy the quirks of the season!

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Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Morning

img_9137Stopping by the woods on this snowy day did not start out to be quite as idyllic and simple as Robert Frost first painted it to be.

The truck fishtailed the tiniest bit as I gingerly stepped on the brakes, just enough to send my heart into my throat.  A giant yellow semi bore down on me from the north, leaving the truck shuddering in the wake of its pass, and me clutching the steering wheel, as though I might hold the vehicle on the road by the whiteness of my knuckles.  An icy blast of sub zero air blasted my face as I rolled the window down, fogging the camera lens.  Was it worth all this?

But the way the tall smoothly scaled red pine trunks contrasted against the feathery spruce boughs, freshly highlighted in snow, had been catching me eye. Quiet beauty was calling to me from the edges of the road, right there in the midst of my hurry to get down the middle of it to check all the little empty squares on my shopping list in town.  Surely I had a minute or two to spare?

“But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep…”
The to-do list and ticking clock of the day nagged, but I pushed it aside.  I would stop, briefly, if only to save myself from driving off the road with all the neck-craning I’d been doing.

And after the roar of the yellow semi subsided, it was true:

“The only other sound’s the sweep, Of easy wind and downy flake…” 

img_9143For a few moments, I was still, and the woods were still.  There was not another car on the road within sight or earshot.  The long list for the day faded away to the back of my mind.  A tiny bit of sunlight twinkled through clouds above, kissing the forest in soft, warm light.  The beauty of creation, which in turn pointed my heart to the beauty of its Creator, steeped into my soul.  And I remembered this story:

“And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind:

and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:

And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire:

and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:11-12)

I am told that the term “a still, small voice” falls down somewhat in translation, that the idea is more that of a silence alive with His presence. It’s a truth supported elsewhere in Scripture, too, in other familiar lines such as:

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

God is not to be found in the rush and busyness and chaos.  God is to be found in the stopping, and in the still and quiet places.  It was true in my soul that morning. It will be true wherever you stop to listen, too.

P.S. Want to read this well-known poem of Robert Frost’s in it’s entirety?  Go here.

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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