Month: May 2017

The High Cost of Disobedience

 

We’re standing by the murky waters of a place we call the frog pond when I tell him. I tell him not to step into the water.  It’s sulfurous black swamp mud, and he’s wearing white socks under his sandals, upon his own insistence.  It has something to do with the cut on his foot that mysteriously appeared in the basement last week.

Maybe it’s because he’s ten feet away and he figures I can’t get over there in time to stop him. Or maybe he simply can’t resist the temptation.  He has a rebellious streak that’s so unlike his sister’s conservative temperament.  I pray every day that I might rein it in.

He doesn’t disobey with a toe in the water and a glance in my direction; he’s an all-in sort of guy, so he literally plunges into the mysterious murky water in a sort of leap. He sinks to his knees before he realizes what happened, and I find myself hurrying to the rescue.  I pull his little body from the muck, and we lose a sandal in the process.

The sobs start as soon as he sees his blackened socks, and I cringe at the thought of the microorganisms burrowing into the laceration on his foot. But there are greater issues to which I must attend: I plunge my arm into the stirred up, stinky water and begin grasping through the mud in search of the missing sandal.

There’s stinking mud under my nails when I pull the tiny shoe from the water, and we walk to the creek to make an effort to clean ourselves. This is a scene that’s played out in my life more than once over the past six years, when I decided to cultivate a passion for catching frogs in the lives of our children.

While Caleb splashes in the much-cleaner water of Wolf Creek, I’m reminded of a passage I read in Scripture not long ago: “‘If we have found favor in your [Moses’] eyes,’ they said, ‘let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.’ Moses said to the Gadites and Reubenites, ‘Should your fellow Israelites go to war while you sit here? Why do you discourage the Israelites from crossing over into the land the Lord has given them?’” (Numbers 32:5-7 NIV)

After forty years of wandering through the wilderness, God’s people have finally reached the waters of the Jordan River – the gateway to the Promised Land. Their inheritance waits on the western side of the river.  They must simply find a way to cross the river and receive the promise.

Not everyone in the crowd is excited about the journey across. A few of the leaders look at the land where they stand, on the eastern side of the river, and they decide this land will be good enough for them.  They’re comfortable.  This spot looks quite welcoming.  They approach Moses, their faithful leader, and convince him to let them stay on the eastern side of the river.

Moses relents. He simply asks that they contribute to the conquests on the western side of the river, and they may then return and settle to the east.

But the happy ending never comes. Jump forward a few books, and we find that those who settled to the east of the Jordan River were attacked and enslaved, and the right eye of every Israelite was gouged out (Samuel 10:27, 2 Kings 10:32). Failing to obey God’s command cost them dearly.

I’m thankful my children are learning to obey. The half-hearted Israelite clans set a good example for us all.  Partial obedience is disobedience, and disobedience has a cost.  We’re called to honor God for our own protection and benefit, not to stifle our fun.

I share these truths with Caleb while we clean his shoes in the semi-clear waters of Wolf Creek.

“No more mud,” he says.

“Right, no more mud,” I affirm.

 

Giving Thanks for the Wearying Workload

 

There’s a pile of luggage at the bottom of the stairwell.  An array of minion-decorated backpacks, colorful duffels, and pink handbags adorned with flowers and fairies.  We’re leaving town for two short nights.  Two nights.  And the pile is taller than our toddler and large enough to fill a small moving van.  I have no idea how we’ll fit it into the hatchback trunk of the CRV.

My mind races through the contents of the bags. There are lists in every room of the house.  There are enough snacks to feed a small family for weeks, enough emergency medical supplies to last our family close to a year, and enough extra diapers for a week.  You just never know.

Trying to remember everything for a short family trip with young children is enough to induced mild chest pains in my anxiety-prone diaphragm. I once decided to compile a master list of needed items, which is a great idea – in theory.  The problem is that the needs of my two-year-old are entirely different than his needs a year ago.  A year ago, he needed jars of runny baby food, the baby chair, multiple bibs, and baby spoons.  This year he’ll eat the same foods as his older sister.  In addition to the changing needs the come with passing years, winter trips are entirely different than summer trips, and the packing also depends entirely upon the destination.

The pile looms in the corner as the sun peaks over the pine trees out the window. I pick a cuticle and open God’s Word for some truth to center my racing mind.  I’m reading in 1 Chronicles these days, and the thin ribbon opens to a page I must have read before.  The black ink is highlighted neon yellow: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples” (1 Chronicles 16:8).

I chew on the words and drink down black coffee. Fuel for the day.

Too often, I forget to chew on the words. Too often I take them in like one more task to complete – like dishes that need cleaned or pillowcases that need folded.  He doesn’t want it to be like this.  He wants it to be like a love letter – pondered and memorized and cherished.

I think of how life would be without these two small people bouncing about in need of snacks and dry pants and crayons. I look at the worn blue backpack at the bottom of the pile.  Ten years ago, that backpack was the only luggage needed on every weekend trip.  Ten years ago, I could fit all I needed for five days in that pack.  Things were simpler.  But simpler doesn’t mean better.  There was less work at home, but it wasn’t better.  It’s better now.

I ponder these things and forgive myself for disdaining the work that sometimes comes with parenting. I give thanks.  I call upon his name.  I commit to make his goodness known.  Are opportunities to serve others not opportunities to give thanks for the honor of sharing in Christ’s heart for investing in others?

The work set before me today is stacked higher than the bags on the steps. There is laundry, cooking, and an article assignment that will take at least three hours.  I’m not looking forward to it.  It’s the gritty kind of work that feels more like a college research paper than a soul-satisfying outpouring from my heart.

I give thanks anyway. I thank him for the opportunity to create with my hands and bless others.  I thank him that there are words to write and dishes to wash.  I thank him that though it feels like a heavy weight, it’s more like a minion backpack filled with purpose and blessing.

 

How to Live Fully

 

The tulip poplar leaves are just beginning to emerge – tiny hands waving at the cobalt sky. I consider their short lives.  For six fleeting months, they greet the dawn with their flapping waves.  When October comes they’ll grow worn and weathered, thick and leathery, and they’ll fall black to the deck, swept away by the autumn winds or the broom that comes to prepare the worn boards for winter.

Six months isn’t long to stand under the sun, to dance wildly in the breeze, to laugh in the rain. Six months feels so fleeting – like a vapor.

You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away, James writes. We’re much the same.  These tiny waving leaves and my oh-so-short life.   Am I really using it well, I wonder as I watch the shadows flitter on the pollen-smeared boards.  Am I wishing away these days that will never come back?  Am I chasing something that’s been right here all along?

How do I live this one life well?

A red-winged black bird glides over the field behind the house, and our caged quail calls for a mate. I turn the pages for words about how to live this day to its fullest, and I find them: This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Could it be so simple?  I ponder the implications of these words and strain to apply them to my life:

I will acknowledge that the Lord has brought this day to pass.  I’ll receive it all as grace and count the blessings and the trials as grace.  Unmerited favor.  His hand working all things for his ultimate glory and my ultimate good.  I’ll give thanks for the muffins baked in the light of early morning, and I’ll give thanks for the little hands that drop all dozen eggs in the middle of the kitchen floor.  I’ll choose to believe that the long line of traffic is all part of some divine plan, and I’ll leave space in my days to talk to strangers.  I’ll hurry less and take photos of flowers in the yard.

I will rejoice. I will rejoice when we hold hands on the way to meet the bus, all three of us linked together in love, and I’ll rejoice when the littlest one falls down on the way back to the house.  I’ll rejoice over the food in the cupboard and the crumbs scattered across the kitchen floor, imitating the line of ants that will soon carry them away.  I will rejoice as I wipe fingerprints from the faucets and smudges from the mirrors.

I will be glad in it. I will be glad in the midst of this actual day.  I will be glad because I’ll see God in it.  I’ll see him in the leaves bursting forth from the poplar tree.  I’ll see him in the eyes of the delivery man when he comes with his tired shoulders and forced smile.  I’ll see him in the tenderness of my child and the frustration of the computer software that refuses to download.  I will know that he loves me in all my imperfections and that he is my great reward.  I will cease from striving and refuse to live in a hurry.  I’ll leave dishes in the sink and dirt on the floor.  I will commit to do whatever I do with my whole heart, as unto the Lord, and I won’t worry about what I can’t do.  I’ll believe the best about other people and refuse to dwell on negative thoughts.  I’ll let go of grudges and let go of what I cannot change.  In all the letting go, I will be glad.

 

I commit to embrace the days in a different way, here on the threshold of spring bursting into summer.   I commit to be all here, to live fully, to still myself and know  . . .

The breeze picks up, and the poplar leaves point heavenward – tiny hands, praising their Maker.

 

 

Scriptures: James 4:14, Psalm 118:24 NASB

Four Reasons to Ponder What Is Beautiful

 

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul. –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The awakening of spring feels like a rebirth of sorts. Something about the sound of geese overhead, the emerging jack-in-the-pulpit rising from black earth, and the pungent scent wafting from the once frozen creekbed stirs a sense of vitality in my soul.  I sense this rebirth speaks of some greater longing within me – a longing for heaven, a longing for the day when all things are made new, a longing for the face-to-face embrace with the One who created me.

Throughout the most stress-filled seasons of my life, pondering beauty has been my greatest source of relief. When college classes weighed on me, I pulled poetry books from the shelves of the library and memorized poems about leaves no step had trodden black.  When my teaching career was straining, I took walks in the bitter December afternoons – towering spruce trees ushering me into a canopy of protection.  When pregnancy rendered me immovable, Mom pulled the old green reclining chair from the porch so I could watch the wrens flutter from their box.

In this season, I can think of lists of reasons to join Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in seeking what is beautiful. Here are four motivations to ponder beauty today:

Magnifying the beautiful magnifies God

In every moment, I have a choice. I can magnify my problems, or I can magnify God.  The mouse pointer disappears on the computer, rendering my day’s plans inoperable.  In this moment, I can magnify my frustrating problem, or I can magnify God.  The kids are literally screaming at one another over who gets to load Lion King into our antiquated VCR.  I can magnify the fact that they’ve now screamed at one another sixteen times in two hours, or I can magnify God by remembering how grateful I am to be a mother.  The daily grind of my life is wearing me down.  I can magnify all the reasons I’m disappointed with my life, or I can magnify the many blessings.

Magnifying God puts my problems in perspective

The benefit of magnifying God in my life is that keeping my eyes on him keeps my problems in perspective. The immovable mouse on my computer changed my plans for the day, but it’s not as big of a deal as it seems.  The yelling kids are unnerving and frustrating, but this is part of learning to cooperate and relate with others.  I’m glad they’re learning to navigate relational frustrations in a safe place.  In the grand scheme of my life, many of my troubles are light and momentary.  Even the heavy burdens will be used for God’s glory.  Keeping my eyes on him reminds me to endure hardships with strength and courage.

We were created to crave beauty

Snow-capped peaks and waves crashing to sandy shores elicit responses of awe because we were created to crave beauty. Ecclesiastes 3:11 reads: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart . . .” We all long for the beauty of encountering God face-to-face. Until then, our hearts are set on fire with passion for him when we see the beautiful works of his hands. Encountering beauty through nature, the arts, architecture, and other people reinvents the awe we were designed to crave.

Gratitude elevates

Gratitude lifts our eyes above ourselves. Thankfulness displaces negativity.  Even the smallest flame dispels a room of darkness.  We’re called to give thanks in everything.  The more we count our blessings, the less we keep track of wrongs.  Gratefulness and grumpiness simply can’t dwell in the same space.

Wherever life finds you today, may you embrace the joy of the journey, find something for which you can give thanks, and keep looking up. The geese are northern-bound.

 

There Are No Small Moments

 

I’m on my knees, camera lens inches from a dwarf ginseng, its tiny snowflake head bobbing in the breeze, when I realize we’re not alone. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” the khaki-clad elderly gentleman greets, and I’m drawn from my small moment with the ginseng.

“Sure is,” I say, somewhat embarrassed by the black dirt on my knees and elbows.

“Did you see the trout lilies?” he asks, and I notice the camera strapped over his neck. I’m less embarrassed.

We talk for a long while about trillium and bluebells, and he finally meanders off along the path. Returning to my photo shoot with the ginseng, I remember the way I once looked at thirty-somethings with cameras and wildflower books.  At twenty-two, I kept track of miles logged and elevations reached, not dwarf flora, like violets and ginseng.  At twenty-two, I mostly lived for big moments – summit moments, and the thought of bending low for small moments seemed nothing short of condescending.

We walk farther down the trail, kids running ahead in search of toads and moths, and I consider these changing seasons. When did small moments begin to take on such an authentic kind of glory?  It must have been before I dug the wildflower books out of the dusty boxes in the attic of the garage.

I remember when I started taking pictures of tiny mushrooms and sphagnum moss. I believe that was the moment.  The moment I pulled out the camera and committed to capture the miracles I miss every day, when I brush past in all my hurry, with my large-moment focus and my desire to prove something.

What if we could all live like we have nothing to prove? What if we never again needed to prove our worth through demonstrating our intelligence, beauty, humor, and talent?  What if these things were simply gifts with which we blessed others, and we were fully content to live in the midst of our quiet moments in utter contentment?

Have I really learned the secret of being content in any and every situation?

What if there really are no small moments – just quiet moments . . . And what if the quiet moments are worth every bit as much as the loud moments performed before the multitudes?

I think long on it, while the kids build castles along the sandy creek, and I’m sure of it: These quiet moments of walking with children in the woods, baking cornbread, stirring scrambled eggs with a rubber spatula, folding tiny T-shirts, and wiping down dusty furniture are the moments that will make up the bulk of our lives. There may be loud moments, platform moments, and moments that are broadcast before the world, but these big moments won’t make up the majority of our lives.

So what are we doing with our quiet moments? Because the quiet moments are the ones that seem small, but they’re really the ones that comprise the essence of our lives.

Sitting along the water, I commit to live with more gratitude. I commit to recognize the gifts that surround me and magnify God through naming them: dwarf ginseng, blue phlox, garlic mustard, and wild geranium; sandcastles at the creek, lunch on a hilltop, holding hands along the road; the mounds of dirty laundry that remind me of the gift of my family, the meat simmering in the crock-pot, the green crayon on the living room wall.  I won’t write these things off or roll my eyes.  I’ll embrace them and give thanks.

I commit to speak life. I commit to ask direct questions and bite my tongue when I’m in a bad mood.  I remember to tell the kids that I love them just because they’re mine, that their mistakes will never define them, and that they make my world a better place.

I commit to live intentionally.  We role play the whole way home from the creek, and Bekah thinks of responses to every playground dilemma I can conjure up.  We read Bible stories before Caleb naps, and I pray specific prayers over each of them before he sleeps.  We turn off the TV and dive into imaginary play on the carpet with our assortment of mini characters.  I make some calls and send some cards.

When the sun sinks low that evening, Bekah and I put together a pocket guide of wildflowers from our sanctuary at the Wolf Creek Narrows Natural Area. We find Latin names and study the history of each plant.  It all feels a bit small, but when she looks at me with dancing blue eyes, filled wild with life and passion, I know for sure that none of this day was small at all.

To check out our pamphlet, just click the link below. You’ll be asked to give your email address, and it will come to your inbox.  This is actually a terrific resource for anyone up for an outdoor adventure this month!

Western Pennsylvanian Spring Wildflower Guide