Hoar Frost & Thoughts On Trust

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)

A Child Is Born

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.IMG_5349 editI 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.IMG_5127 editFor 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.IMG_5356 editFor 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.IMG_5118 editAnd all was well, because God was there.

For me,

For Mary,

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.IMG_5325 edit“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)

On the Next Day of Winter…

IMG_0143 edit.jpgIn 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.IMG_0157 edit.jpgMuch 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 it should be the end of a long winter, but sometimes we just keep getting more snowstorms instead.IMG_0140 edit.jpg 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)IMG_0167 edit.jpgRemember: 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.

The New and the Old

IMG_7295 editI always enjoy spending the first few weeks of a new year reflecting back on the old.  I read through the my journals and scroll through the pictures I took, reminding myself of what I’ve learned and experienced over those 365 days.  I note the highlights and the lowlights, what was the same and what was different, what was new and what was old—and this is what I found for 2019:

There were wonderful old things—

Old friends to catch up with…

The faithful, breathtaking repetition of seasons…

Old favorite vacation spots from our childhoods, revisited with our own children…

Time-worn traditions and celebrations honored once again…IMG_7921 editAnd not-so-exciting old things—

The same old piles of dirty dishes every day…

Bigger quantities of the same old cycle of laundry: wash, dry, fold, put away, repeat…

Vehicles aging, old parts needing replaced…

Old habits struggling to be broken…

But in the midst of all the old, the good and the bad, His mercies were new.  Fresh, marvelous and breathtaking every day, breathing life and purpose and wonder into the sameness and drudgery of life.img_3173 editThere were also wonderful new things—

New faces to become friends with…

New recipes tried, new books read…

New ways I was challenged and uplifted spiritually…

A new baby to carry, birth and nurture…IMG_4074 editAnd not so fun new things—

New goodbyes to be said this side of heaven…

New-to-me levels of sickness and health issues, and need for help as I went through them…

New things to forgive and be forgiven for.

But in the midst of all this, the good and the bad, His mercies were old.  Not old and worn out, but old and timeless and sure.  Unchanging, firm, and the same, an untold comfort in the midst of change and uncertainty.IMG_4063 editAnd now I’m three weeks into another new year,

days adding to days without stopping to wait while I reflect,

already colored by the un-calculated quantities of baby spit up on my shirt, giant snow storms and unexpected events.

And I’m here to say that I’m already discovering that the same old story from last year is on repeat in the new:  His mercies are new every morning and great is His faithfulness.  May you discover the same, in abundance, in the upcoming year!IMG_3148But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:  The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,“therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:21-24)

P.S. Featured here are a few odd pictures that I never got around to using from 2019!  Also, I know I’ve been absent from this space for awhile, but I’ve had good reason in the form of one tiny adorable little man who arrived to change the landscape of our family forever in October.  To those of you who have inquired with such kind interest as to the future state of this blog:  Thank you for your patience as I’ve taken a long break from here to focus fully on adjusting to life as a family of six.  Lord willing, I do hope to get back to more writing and photography as this new season permits!  Meanwhile, you’ll find me taking baby portraits and writing in his baby book about first smiles and that time he slept eight hours….

 

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)

 

Sledding

IMG_3811 edit.jpgAt the top of the sledding hill, the soft whir of tiny wings and the pleasant songs of chickadees surrounded me.  They were dancing among the slender tree branches, up above my head against the deep blue of the afternoon sky, taking turns bobbing in and out of the dangling feeder.The rust-breasted nuthatch didn’t stir from his post on a square of suet as well-bundled sledders shouted their way down the hill, not even when I dared peek around the tree trunk to get a better look at him.  In fact, he turned out to be a bit of a show off.  Bet you can’t hang upside down while eating a chunk of lard. 

You’re probably right, little birdie.  But I can still relish a good hollering snow-in-the-face swish down a snowy hill, and that’s something.IMG_3821.JPGHe looked at me skeptically, so I figured I’d better prove my point.  I left him and his feathered friends to their feast, and down I went, small daughter tucked securely between my knees, flying over the bumps on the snowy track in the direction of the cattails.  Down at the bottom of the hill, where the sun was laying long shadows across the river bed, there was an explosion of powder as the sled hit previously un-excavated snow.  I shouted in triumph.  My daughter, with a surprise face full of powder puff snow, was not so impressed.  There were tears, then sniffles, then, to my relief, giggles as a generous sled ride up the hill was offered as recompense.

My yells of triumph quickly diminished to belabored frozen puffs of breath and the silence of effort as I shouldered into my yellow twine harness and trudged up the slope.  But when I glanced back over my shoulder, I could just see her eyes between the frozen folds of hat and face-warmer, and they were scrunched into an unmistakable smile.  She was riding like a queen in her shiny purple sequinned mittens, ensconced in state upon her blaze orange plastic chariot, and I was her trusty stead.

Oh, to be four again, when the troubles of life are so quickly and easily solved! img_3832 editAs I paused briefly to catch my breath, I noted that the birds were still bobbing  and flitting in and out of the swinging feeders at the top of the hill.  In the midst of this long, hard winter, they were obviously grateful for kindness of these and other thoughtful neighbors that make their daily food search easier.  I am grateful to the same neighbors for letting us take over their steep back yard for an afternoon.  Also grateful for the warmth exertion supplies, coupled with the sunshine that made it seem not quite as cold as the thermometer read.img_3838 editAt the top, I gave my older daughter a hearty push for a solo trip down the hill, then opened the screen door for Miss Purple Mittens to head happily indoors to hot chocolate.  (Bless you, Martie, for that!)  I deliberated over which child to follow—but then a large hairy woodpecker swooped in and made my decision easy.  Perhaps the only thing quite fascinating enough to distract me from sledding or a good hot drink is a compelling photo opportunity.

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water [or hot chocolate, if you live in northern Minnesota] to one of these little ones…truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

 

 

Frosted

IMG_7147.JPGWhen I was a young, aspiring baker, my mother taught me how to frost cookies and cakes.  It’s an experience that I remember with striking clarity because, in her kitchen, not just any frosting job would do.  Frosting (the verb, not the noun) was not merely a job to get done.  It was an art form.

We started with the least fussy of surfaces, a simple 9×13 cake.  She taught me how to spread the frosting evenly, thick to the edges but not quite touching the sides of the pan, never letting your knife touch the actual cake.  If you did it right, there was this beautifully rounded smooth edge to the whole sweet mass.  Then, you went back over the whole thing and made rows of dips or swoops, evenly but quickly so it didn’t look like you tried too hard.  If you did that part right, it looked as effortless and beautiful as the wind-tossed waves of sun-kissed lake.  If you didn’t—well, let’s just say that’s what my first attempts looked like.

From there we graduated to different surfaces, different kinds of frosting.  Whipped cream allowed the greatest abandon of perfection, and was great fun—but one still had to fuss with it a bit, because it still needed to look artsy.  Meringue was where deeper dips were needed to create the desired peaks; extra points if those peaks curled at the tips.  Glaze required wrist flicking, and the artful contriving of “even” drips all around.

Shaped sugar cookies were the final test of my basic skills, and true sign that I was about to graduate.  The technique was just like a cake, only applied with the tippiest-tip of a butter knife, maintaining that smooth rounded edge all around varied curves that included the narrow length of gingerbread arms and complicated crystaled forms of snowflakes.  You never scraped you knife on the edge of a cookie.  That was what the edges of the frosting bowl were for.

Once I’d mastered that, you’d think I’d arrived—but not so!  That’s when I started poring over her folder full of Wilton cake decorating books.  I’d hover around the table with my siblings, watching with fascination as my mom turned the sides of a layer cake into a woven basket and created three-dimensional roses on the end of a giant nail for our picture-perfect birthday cakes.  It was time to advance to a whole new level.IMG_7113.JPGIMG_7130IMG_7128IMG_7135IMG_7109.JPGOn mornings when I wake up to a frosted world, I can’t help thinking back to what it was like learning to frost.  I enjoyed learning, but mastering the techniques certainly didn’t happen overnight.  This refined coating of a thousand minute crystals deposited by a sudden drop in temperature, on the other hand, does.

I love how God makes something we have to work so hard to do right look so stunningly effortless.

“He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes.” (Psalm 147:16)

A Sparkling Performance

img_7343-e1518823912498.jpgWatching the wind move fine snow over the landscape is mesmerizing to me.

The snow dances,

whisked low, sifting as smooth as the most refined granulated sugar over the open spaces,

then spinning around to be thrown high, chasing billows of itself wild and free through the limitless expanse of the air.

The swirling and pouring creates this constantly changing landscape of fine layers, and miniature buttes, mesas, dunes and canyons.

Best of all is when the sun is shining at the same time, adding sparkle and shimmer and gold to elevate the entire show from mesmerizing to magnificent.IMG_6885img_6877-e1519176732283.jpgimg_6862.jpgIMG_6873IMG_7376-1.jpgIt’s like an Olympic figure skating performance, complete with the artistry, sparkles and gold.  The wind and the snow, they are like the perfect couple, as the wind tosses the snow up, spinning, catching it again with effortless ease, moving in perfect time with each other and the sound of their own music.  Only it’s right in my front yard, nobody’s keeping track of points, and I seem to be the only one watching.

But there the comparisons will have to cease, because other than the suspense of who will win, the required precision and ranking system of such a human performance removes it from the sheer mystery and wonder to be found in the movement of the wind and it’s interplay with the snow.

It’s no wonder that Solomon chooses the wind, then, as his comparison to the great mystery of how God works.

“As you do not know the path of the wind…so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. (Ecclesiastes 11:5)

Or, as a more familiar passage states it:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
            Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.

      “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
            So are My ways higher than your ways
            And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Porcupine

img_6749.jpgOh, to be a porcupine up in a tree,

a conspicuous ball of black against the blue,

placidly nibbling tree buds,

oblivious to the -25 wind chill,

whose only response to a curious passerby ankle deep in snow

(after that twinkling in his eye—or was I imagining that?)

is to curl up into a slightly tighter ball,

just to be sure I didn’t forget that he had nothing to be afraid of underneath all that spiky armor.

IMG_6744.JPGBut I suppose that since I can’t be a porcupine

I can be a city on a hill instead, or maybe a lamp on a stand—or maybe both at once, since they have so much in common.

Especially the way a city glows after dark,

conspicuous for miles around in it’s reflections up to the heavens,

placidly humming with all the activity that makes it a city,

stoplights constantly switching colors,

brake lights flashing and turn signals blinking,

people closing the blinds at night so they can sleep in spite of the constant glow of lampposts.

Cities, like porcupines, don’t really know who might be wearily traveling

down long highways way off in the darkness,

gazing at the lights,

moving towards them and their promise of things to eat and places to lay their heads—

but they shine on steady through the night anyway.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Frost Fire

IMG_6324.JPGThere’s a new year rising, about ready to break over the horizon just like the sun was on this breathtakingly frosty morn.

What will it hold?

Naturally, not one of us can predict exactly.  We can talk, dream of and discuss plans, goals and resolutions until the clock strikes midnight—but no one really knows what will happen.  This we do know, however:

“Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16:3)

Because of that, just as the hoary treetops turned to fire, aflame with the hope and oncoming glory of the new day, this new year can be bright with hope on your horizon, too.  No matter what it holds, if we acknowledge Him each step of the way—be it exciting, ordinary or difficult—He will make our path straight.  Cling to that!