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)

Sandhill Cranes

img_1602-1-e1559014041812.jpgWe’ve seen them other years, stopping very briefly on their way to other destinations or merely flying over—but this year, two (and sometimes three) lingered for weeks.  The deep-throated trombone of their voices was an exotic addition to our usual local symphony, putting the normally dominate swan trumpeting to shame, and for awhile, they would even sound off like clockwork around 5 AM every morning.  Who needs an alarm clock, my husband and I would mumble groggily to each other, when you have sandhill cranes in your back yard?

I expected lots of photo opportunities, but there was one thing I hadn’t figured on, and that’s how alert these big birds are.  That was coupled with the fact that they generally feed in the open fields, where there is little cover for a hopeful photographer.  I made a couple noble efforts, but to no avail.  Off they’d flap, every time, noisily warning to the rest of world!  “She may not look like a wolf,” I could imagine them croaking knowingly to each other, “But she may be a wolf in human clothing.”  They weren’t taking any risks when it came to suspicious creeping in their direction.

On one of these attempts I discovered that I wasn’t the only one curious about the newcomers—but this inquisitive deer had a little more luck with close-ups than I did.IMG_4764 edit.jpgIMG_4766 edit.jpgFrustrating as it was to have my designs foiled time after time, I had to begrudgingly admire these giant fowl’s sense of awareness though.  It reminded me of the sobering topic we’ve been studying on Wednesday nights at church, and in particular, this verse:

“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

It would seem that we all could learn a bit from the sandhill cranes, who never seem to let down their guard, who not only see and flee at the first sign of danger but warn everyone around them of it, too.  Sometimes, instead, we’re a bit too much like the pair of twin fawns I encountered the other day (unfortunately without a camera in hand), who naively wandered out into the middle of the road to sniff the tires of my paused car.  “Look, isn’t it pretty?  Isn’t it shiny?  It doesn’t look like those wolves mother is always warning us against.  Surely it won’t hurt to take a closer look!”  All the while ignoring the frantic hoof stomping of their mother from the safety of the ditch, quite oblivious to the fact that I’d just come within inches of running them over and that someday a hunter will not merely sit there admiring their pretty brown eyes.

Hopefully, before it’s too late, they will learn, as the sandhill cranes know, that danger does not always come packaged in sharp teeth and furs, and that it’s better to be wary, listen to the warnings from those around you and do your research of the unknown from a safe distance.

And hopefully, each of us does, too.*

“[Therefore] Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13)

*For more in depth instructions on how to identify and withstand the spiritual enemy I’m alluding to here, see Ephesians 6:10-18, or check out the excellent study guide we’ve been using over here called Spiritual Warfare: Overcoming the Enemy by Kay Arthur and David and BJ Lawson.

Shedding

IMG_3920 edit.jpgThere was no buck in sight that sub-zero evening, but he didn’t need to be there.  His story was written as clearly across the January ground as though he’d penned a tale and published it.

Heart-shaped hoof prints studded the powdery snow helter-skelter.  This deer had been doing more than just passing by.

The brittle yellow cornstalks nearby were ripped up and broken off.  This deer had been doing more than nibbling on remnants of the past fall’s corn cobs.

I didn’t fully understand the saga, however, until I’d walked a few steps further and saw something lying on the snow.  I might have overlooked it for a stick had I been in the forest, but out in the middle of a field, far from any tree, it stood out like a sore thumb.  So this was the meaning of all the ruckus!

The antler had fallen off so recently that was even still a tiny bit of red blood at the base.

The other was not to be found in the near vicinity.  My imagination filled in the blanks: perhaps the first one had fallen off easily a while ago, but this one had stubbornly hung on, half off, half on, loose and bothersome and catching on everything like a snagged fingernail.  In a fit of annoyance, he’d thrashed his head against the cornstalks.  Tonight, that young buck was enjoying the newfound freedom of a head free of at least one loose, annoying antler.

I imagined that his jubilation mirrored that of my six-year-old’s this afternoon when she finally summoned the bravery to pluck out an uncomfortably wiggly baby tooth that had stubbornly refused to fall out on its own.

Freedom!  Oh, the sweet relief.

A dear friend recently gave me a stone with that same word, “Freedom”, engraved on it.  Or rather, she asked me to, without looking, draw out of a basket full of stones engraved with many words and see what word I got—and this was it.  The word didn’t resonate with me strongly at first, but knowing that she had prayed for the word to have meaning for me, I continued to mull it over for several days—and it was out there in the swiftly falling dusk, with the bitter wind rattling the cornstalks and a lone spike antler at my feet, that I understood what it meant for me personally.

It was not a reminder of the freedoms that I already enjoyed, as I had at first thought, but an invitation to the freedoms that I still needed to experience.  Freedom from the things weighing me down, the things encumbering me, holding me back, dragging me down.  I’m not talking about people or things or other outward tangible things; I’m talking about inner bondages and burdens of the heart.

Perhaps you have a few of those, too?  Perhaps a hurt feeling, too long nursed. Perhaps a bit of jealousy, a secret wish for malice, harbored anger.  Perhaps some sense of entitlement, some need for control, some lie of worthlessness.  Perhaps some disappointment you haven’t accepted.  Perhaps some hidden fear or shame, eating away.IMG_3922 edit.jpgThen this word carved on this stone is for you, too.  It’s an invitation to break free of that inner thing that is dragging you down, to muster the courage to let go, to summon the strength that is yours to claim in Christ and bravely lay aside.  Shed it like a useless old antler, like an outgrown baby tooth.  Drop it on the ground, throw it in the garbage—and leave it there.  Then walk on, without looking back, into the fullness of freedom Christ longs for you to experience.

“Therefore…let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1)

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be encumbered once more by a yoke of slavery.” (Galations 5:1)

“…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

“Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)

 

2017 Favorites

It’s a fun tradition during the first week of the new year to go back over my posts from the previous year and pick out my favorites.  It’s also a bit of a challenge, so this year I decided to give myself some categories to help make the task easier.

Also, I decided to title this year’s round-up as “favorites” rather than “best of” as I have in the past.  My actual favorites are not always the photos that would be deemed my finest “works of art”, and that’s okay.  To determine what is my best work I’ve decided I’m quite content to leave to the viewer’s discretion; what is my favorite work only I can determine and, I suspect, makes for a much more interesting story.IMG_5073-1Favorite Bucket List Score: A non-blurry close-up photo of a hummingbird has been on my list for a long time.  If you know how fast these little beauties move, you know why I considered this opportunity a gift!  This wasn’t the only shot I scored, either—and you can check out all of them in this post.

IMG_2193Favorite Associated Memory: Not surprisingly, my favorites are often so because of the stories and memories behind them.  This photo reminds me of a happy walk in the golden glow of a late summer evening, that ecstatic moment when we realized the ditch we were walking along was studded with these ripe little jewels, and the mental picture of my husband down on hands and knees picking every one in sight.  And the taste, oh the taste!IMG_2929Favorite Travel Shot:  I really had a hard time choosing, but oddly enough, I ended up settling on this one that never even made it into a blog post!  (Thus, a bonus photo for you!)  My reason is solely based on the humor of the situation.  This is a wild turkey mama who apparently doesn’t believe in broadcasting photos of her family for the world to see.  She paraded them daringly along the edge of the road, oblivious to traffic roaring by—but when I tried to discreetly poke a camera lens out the truck window, that was a different story.  She has at least six chicks, who are down there in the grass by her feet hiding.  I’m really not sure if that’s a twinkle of mischief in her eye there, or a glint of suspicion, or just a look of triumph for foiling my designs.  She granted me this one cameo peekaboo shot, and that was it.

This is also memorable, because my husband is the one who spotted her as we were driving and turned around of his own accord to go back so I could take a picture.  Now that’s true love, folks.

IMG_1943Favorite Action Shot:  The story behind this one can be found here!img_4098-1.jpgFavorite Landscape:  The more you get into photography, the more you obsess about light.  The absence or presence of the right kind of light, outside of actual studio photography, is something you chase after, wait for, wish for, do your best to contrive for, but cannot ever completely control.  When you catch it, its a glorious moment.  I passed this roadside bed of fire weed many times this summer, but it wasn’t until just the right shaft of late-afternoon golden light hit it, spotlighting the blossoms against the dark backdrop of forest, that it actually became worth stepping on the brakes for.IMG_1076Favorite Car Window Shot: Hands down.  It makes me smile every time I look at it.IMG_4958Favorite Floral:  Obviously I wasn’t the only one who appreciated the cornflower blue of these bachelor buttons in my flower garden this year!IMG_5779-1Favorite Challenge (as in the photos I worked the hardest for): That would definitely be any photo containing otters.  Just don’t ask how many photos I actually took to secure those I deemed worthy to share with you (you can view a couple more in this post).  I’ve found that otters, like hummingbirds, don’t sit still very much.  This is the first year I’ve actually gotten decent shots of them, but I by no means consider the challenge over.  Next Bucket List item: otter close-ups!IMG_4861-01Favorite Nature Close-Up:  I love the contrast of this perfect autumn leaf from my parent’s maple-rich yard posing on their picnic table.IMG_1567Favorite Sky Capture: this alignment of the storm clouds and big round moon just after sunset was so stunning, and I enjoyed the extra fiddling with my camera required to expose those lunar craters just right!  It rated high enough in my small world to become my desktop wallpaper.  It must have appealed to you, too, because it also rated as the post with the most views for 2017!

A close runner-up to that one, however, was this stormy sky:IMG_2880IMG_2882This was the most magnificent sunset I have seen in my life, and the pictures (yes, they’re both from the same evening) hardly do it justice.  It was also the one redeeming feature of the most severe summer storm I’ve had to drive through in my life.  That was the road trip in which we missed half-dollar sized hail by a mere couple miles and because it was raining so hard could see nothing but the taillights ahead of us for what seemed like eternity (probably more like fifteen minutes).  It was unforgettable all around.

I was going to do “Favorite Wildlife”—but so many of those ended up qualifying for the other categories that it seemed a bit redundant!

These photos, along with all the others I shared with you this year, represented lessons learned, whether in the technical realm of photography or in the stunning world of nature, and always in the beautiful realm of our Creator’s goodness, infinite creativity and love.  I considered each opportunity to take a photograph a gift, and it is my prayer that each one, in turn, became a gift to you as well.  If the sharing of these images have even once shifted your heart from the temporal to the eternal, from worrying to praise, from self to God—then I rejoice right along with “the little hills…on every side” (Psalm 65:12).

Now, here’s looking forward to all the yet unknown experiences, encounters, lessons and photographs 2018 holds and looking forward to continuing to share it with you!