Category: Appreciating Small Miracles

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons from the Flowers in My Pocket

 

I reach into my pocket for a tissue and pull out a handful of wilted yellow flowers. They’re coltsfoot blossoms – a gift from my son on a warm spring afternoon. Withering and wilted, they look pathetic in my pocket, and I make sure he doesn’t see me slip them into the garbage can. But before I can release the crumpled symbols of his love for me, something stops me.

I examine them closely in my hand, then walk to the china cabinet in search of a suitable vase. Throwing them into the garbage can simply isn’t an option today. Someday I’ll confess to my children that I’ve quietly discarded art projects, spelling tests, and pet rocks, but for today, I’m keeping the flowers.

Staring at the pathetic vase on the dining room table, the flowers from my pocket remind me of several important lessons about life:

Small miracles always surround us

For close to thirty years, I quit noticing coltsfoot flowers along the roadside. I quit appreciating the first color to burst forth from the bleak winter landscape. For a long decade, I became so focused on my career, my goals, and my schedule that I overlooked the thousands of tiny miracles in my midst. I stopped catching snowflakes on my tongue, smelling roses, and making wildflower bouquets.

I’m thankful for the students and children who have reminded me what it means to appreciate the small miracles in my midst. Geese overhead bring awe, freshly fallen snow on a winter morning is a reason to cheer, and sunsets warrant a cessation of all activity. I’m slowly becoming less focused on the tasks of the day and growing in gratitude for the small miracles all around.

What some people call weeds, others call treasure

There’s a beautiful housing development about a half-mile from our house. We live on the outskirts of the development, literally the last house between town and the endless fields of rural farm country. The houses in the development manage to completely eradicate small yellow flowers from their lawns with chemicals and special treatments.

Meanwhile, my son refuses to walk past a colorful flower without picking it for me. Refuses. It’s a battle to keep daffodils in our landscaping, because he insists on bringing them inside for his mom. Not a dandelion endures the onslaught of his voracious desire for more treasures. He reminds me that embracing the imperfection of a flower-spotted yard might just be a gateway to greater joy. Similarly, embracing the imperfection of a less-than-perfect life, might just free me to live more abundantly.

The season of darkness always ends

The coltsfoot plants emerge on the cusp of spring. The days are just starting to linger longer. Raging blizzards have mostly passed, and warm sunny days alternate with blustery days of flurries and winter hats. The coltsfoot reminds me that the darkness of winter really will end, and warm days of basking in the sun await.

The dark seasons of our lives generally don’t last forever either. Even for those of us who endure darkness and trouble throughout much of our lives on earth, there is a greater promise awaiting. There is a promise of life without tears, pain, or suffering. I’m quite certain it will also be a life of rolling hills of coltsfoot and glistening yards of dandelions. This darkness won’t last forever.

 

The Astonishing Goodness of God

“We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that He should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at His love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.” ― Brennan Manning

The daffodils are wilted under the weight of the late winter snow. We all thought we’d made it through, when it came back and pounded relentlessly, the tempest fighting for one last victory. The yellow blossoms that seemed to promise sunshine and hope a week ago have lost their first battle. Life’s not as gentle as we often wish.

Somehow, despite the disappointment of more cold weather, something about the whiteness of the world feels holy this morning. I let the daffodils rest under the weight of the snow and seek refuge inside, where the whitewashed tree line out the window speaks of a silent kind of waiting. It’s as if we’re all waiting for spring together. Waiting for warmth. Waiting for redemption. All together, we sense there must be more, and so we stand and we keep waiting.

The snow and the hidden flowers and the buds that sprouted too early remind me of the emptiness that sometimes comes late in the day. When the world sleeps, televisions are stilled, and the darkness of a world turned from the Light sits in blackness, we find ourselves empty and longing for more. We long for greater fulfillment from our jobs, greater joy in our days, more satisfaction in our accomplishments, and deeper union in our relationships. Even when life is relatively purposeful, joyful, and complete, there’s still a deep ache for something greater.

Looking at the fields, I consider these things, and I consider the reality that this very spot might just be holy ground. What if we don’t need to wait for the burning bush to encounter God? What if he’s here, in this moment with the fields and the daffodils – in this place with the longing and searching? What if the simple fact that he bothers to call me by name is enough to bewilder me to such a degree that I live captivated by him in my ordinary life?

Jesus prayed these words in the garden before he went to the cross: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).

We’re all walking around with a longing for heaven that won’t be fulfilled until we get there, but we don’t have to wait for heaven to embrace the eternal life we receive when we come to the cross. Eternal life is knowing God – more and more and more – right now, in this life. We step into eternal life the moment we become followers of Jesus, and eternal life is more than a ticket to heaven. Eternal life is the privilege of knowing God in this life.

The privilege makes every moment an invitation to stand on holy ground, mouths gaping in awe that he loves us so tenderly. He longs to speak of his love to us in a thousand ways: in the purity of the late-winter snowfall, in the daffodils that rose too soon, in the child who gazes across the room with a smile, in the gesture of a friend.

I sit with Caleb by the window, and I open to Psalms, reading aloud as we watch for birds at the feeder. He presses his little eyelids shut with a grimace, like he’s fighting to keep them closed, folds his hands in a mishmash of tangled fingers, and lets me read the whole psalm. We bask in God’s love for us and count all the ways we’ve encountered his love today. There’s no doubting it: We’re standing on holy ground.

The Art of Embracing Interruptions

 

The wind’s screaming through the poplar tree out the window, and the curtains flutter from the draft. I roll over and pray the light pouring through the blinds is just my imagination, but I’m pretty sure it’s the dawn of a new day. I went to bed late, thinking of writing projects and the poster Bekah and I need to make for her school project next week and what I’m going to send for snack day. My mind raced for hours, and now that dawn is here, I have no desire to race into anything.

My to-do list is long today, and I think of Ann Voskamp’s words about changing our to-do lists into to-love lists. Could scrubbing the toilets really be an act of love? Could getting down on all fours to work on the sticky dining room floor really be an act of worshipful service?

I brush my teeth thoughtlessly, and the impending nature of my list weighs me down. I need to write two articles this weekend to top it all off. The good news is that I’m the first one awake, and the stillness of the morning feels like an invitation to productivity.

I race through my daily routine of Bible reading, coffee, and dry cereal without so much as a single prayer. Little footsteps stir before I’m done checking the weather forecast, and it seems I’m racing time. I’m racing to accomplish, produce, and achieve.

Bekah’s up first, and for this I’m thankful. Once Caleb hits the ground, quiet moments cease at all levels. She smiles at me sleepily, then settles into Minecraft on the Kindle and sucks down chocolate milk. My heart smiles watching her, for just an instant, and then it’s back to the to-do list. I’m thinking of Ann again and trying to reframe my perspective as I wipe sticky handprints from the sliding glass door for the thirty-fourth time this week.

The morning progresses at the same pace, and by quarter til ten, I’m half way through writing my first article. The kids are lost in piles of dump trucks, plastic action heroes, Legos, and stuffed animals on the living room floor when Caleb comes to me eagerly. “Creek today?” he asks, and I smile. A trip to the creek wasn’t on my to-do list.

I’m not good at embracing interruptions. A surprise knock on the door when I’m in the mist of cooking dinner isn’t a welcomed opportunity – even when it’s someone from a different religious denomination coming to the door to talk about God. Too many times, I’ve overlooked opportunities to embrace people who literally come to me and want to discuss God. I wish my kids were never interruptions, but sadly, I tend to focus on tasks more easily than less tangible necessities. And spending time with my kids is a necessity.

It takes three interruptions from Caleb and one from Bekah to convince me to save my to-do list for tomorrow and go to the creek. We go, and they love every minute. We bring nets, search for frogs, and build sandcastles. We laugh, take turns sharing what we like about each other, and throw huge stones into the water. I am fully refreshed, and memories are made.

Returning home, Caleb naps, and Bekah and I embrace an hour of quiet time. In one short hour, I write more words with a refreshed soul than I would have written in four hours earlier in the day. I’m surprised the interruption fueled me.

I think of Jesus walking from town to town. I think of his destination and the reality that nearly every interaction along the road was an interruption. Again and again, he was interrupted for the purpose of bringing glory to God through his interactions with others. He wasn’t put off or disgruntled by interruptions. He lived in the midst of interruptions and embraced them.

As I finish typing, a six-year-old stands at my side with a coloring book. Time to embrace another beautiful interruption.

 

 

 

 

Embracing the Mundane

The yard is muddied with footprints and tire tracks, and I’m thankful for the early thaw. The neighbor lays black mulch along her hedgerow, and I wish our miniature junipers would grow. This is my life. It’s ordinary, and I’m sometimes disappointed with the lack of landscaping out my window – sometimes disappointed with the ordinariness of it all. But I’m learning to live with joy in the mundane, and it’s changing everything.

Staring at the muddy footprints, I decide to live fully today. There are curtain rods to hang, sheets to wash, and hamburgers to cook, but I’m stepping into the world and embracing it today. Caleb agrees. He’s two – pretty much my right hand man in everything from brushing my teeth to shoveling the sidewalk.

Our muddied clothes are adorned in thirteen short minutes, a fraction of the time it takes to walk Bekah to the school bus at the crack of dawn each morning. He misses her and tells me he wants to go to kindergarten too. But for now, the world is ours to conquer. I strap him into the weathered, torn, and rusted stroller, and we ignore stares from elderly neighbors passing by in old Buicks, clearly concerned that this morning is too cold for a stroller walk. Forty-degrees is a heat wave for us, and we’re embracing it.

“Hot dire today?” he asks. (He replaces the letter f with the letter d pretty consistently.)

“I brought the matches. Do you want a fire today?” I ask him like he’s thirty-five, not two.

“Yeah.”

The trees are bare, and I’m surprised by the starkness of their grey arms reaching to the blue sky. I thank God for the blue sky and the warmth of sunlight on my face. I thank him we’re healthy enough for a walk, that no one has a cold, that I’m not stuck in bed with the forty-week nausea.

“Marshmallows?” Caleb interrupts my daydream.

“Yeah, bud. I brought the marshmallows,” I affirm. He’s good at remembering things.

“Matches?”

“Yep. Got ‘em,” I assure him.

I remember my days of teaching in the classroom – all 1,295 of them. I remember how it felt to be in a building when I so desperately craved the open sky. I remember the joy of teaching teens with special needs to read, count money and cook, but I remember the hard moments too – managing it all and feeling stressed almost constantly. By the end of my teaching career, I was so ready to be a mom and spend my days investing in my own kids.

Being outside with my son under blue skies on a brisk winter day isn’t an obligation. It’s a gift. My heart overflows with gratitude as I ponder the gift.

We build our fire, cook our marshmallows, and watch a woodpecker pound a leaning cherry tree. It’s an afternoon of sheer joy in the simple act of living.

I think of it now, and I’m reminded to keep my eyes on the joy. There is always something to be thankful for, and in giving thanks, we live filled. In giving thanks, there is joy in the mundane.

~~~

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog, you’ll notice I updated some aspects of my page.  We’ll call it spring cleaning.  I also added a “Parenting” page to the top navigation bar.  If you’re interested in checking out some online articles I’ve written on raising kids, feel free to check it out!

 

 

Lessons from the Oak Leaves

 

February came bleak and quiet. Overcast, with patches of blackened snow along country roads. It seemed the world was sleeping. The aging farmer down the road hadn’t left the house in weeks – with his blaze orange stocking cap interrupting the landscape just like the male cardinal on naked blackberry bushes.

I struggle in winter. The combination of darkness and coldness pushes us inside, and grace grows thin.

I went to the woods on a Saturday, thinking of Thoreau: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” (101).

Going to the woods isn’t at the heart of my life’s purpose, but it is at the heart of my life’s replenishment. I go to the woods when the struggles of living in the world wear on me, and something about the canopy above and the millions of microcosms of life below heals my wounded soul. I breathe in life in the woods. Slowing down reminds me of how to live deliberately in the rushing world of people and commerce and cement.

I looked to the trees that gray afternoon, and they stood with skeletal silence, staring at the firmament. The only sign of life was a pin oak tree, holding onto its russet leaves like a mother who just can’t let her children go. Or maybe the leaves were the ones holding on.

I pondered it, thinking of Christ’s words about abiding: “ If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6).

Somewhere on a well-manicured lawn, far from this woods, a man in a green plaid coat set fire to the leaves that blanketed his yard. I saw it happen in October. But he didn’t burn the oak leaves. They held on, and by the sign of the pin oak, I guessed they were still clinging.

Sometimes we just have to cling to the One who brings life. When the austerity of winter strikes, when the snow falls by surprise, we learn much from the oak leaves when we simply cling to the Source. Clinging to the Source is mostly about clinging to his love, believing in his love, and living in the realization of his love with a sheer refusal to let go. Christ goes on: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (verse 9).

I don’t know where your life is hard today. But my hope is that you’ll seize the lesson of the oak leaves. Cling to the One who brought you forth.

I walk farther, passing a small grove of oaks, all bearing their weathered leaves with the solemn stance of mourners at a funeral. Refusing to let go. And this is when it hits me. It’s not up to the leaves to hold on. If it were up to the leaves, every tree would bear their ginger winter foliage. It’s the steadfastness of the oak tree that refuses to let go of the leaves. I glance to my weak faith, and I am deeply encouraged.

Thoreau, H. D. (1854). Walden; or, Life in the Woods. Boston, MA: Ticknor and Fields.

 

The Power of Celebration

Snow falls heavily on the hundredth day of school, and someone made a snowman on the bridge below our house. Just standing there posed on the rusting guardrail, he reminds me to celebrate the small moments. He reminds me to pause and enjoy my life.

I need this reminder a thousand times a day, when laundry piles high and I find myself on my knees – wiping the sixteenth mess off laminate floor and not thinking of pausing to pray, not in the least.

I wonder who built the snowman on the bridge, and I wish we could have a conversation about celebration – about what would slow a person down enough to even consider such a carefree act. I wonder who decided to count the days of the school year and throw a party on the hundredth. Certainly there are thousands of reasons for celebration all around us, and we’re too busy living life to stop and throw a party.

When Bekah was younger, one of her favorite activities was throwing birthday parties for her dolls. She convinced me to help her bake a cake for each party, and sometimes we even splurged on ice cream for the special event. Decorations adorned the walls, and we broke out the party hats. Her celebratory spirit was contagious, and the whole family benefitted.

I wonder if this is how the Israelites felt every seventh year. During their meeting on Mount Sinai, God commanded Moses to establish a year of Jubilee every seven years. Here are his instructions:  “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the Lord.  Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop, but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard” (Leviticus 25:2-4).

Allowing the land to rest, slaves to go free, and vineyards to remain untouched was restorative to the land and the people. It was a year lived at a different pace, and it was a deep reminder that our rest and joy come from the Lord.

In a similar way, restoring a spirit of celebration in our lives reminds us that every good and perfect gift comes from God. And when we find joy in the simple parts of our lives, God is pleased. Here are a few suggestions for adding a spirit of celebration to your February:

Find a reason to have a party

Whether it’s a party with friends or a party with your immediate family, nothing breaks the monotony of winter like a reason to celebrate. Bekah’s party-throwing spirit eventually rubbed off on the rest of the family, and we have at least one party per month. There was a party when Bekah learned to read, a party when the guinea pig turned three months old, and a party for the new year. We’re planning a party for when the kids log 100 miles on the bike path, not to mention the possibilities that come now that Groundhog Day is upon us. There’s always something to celebrate.

Be intentional about getting outside

Whether it’s taking a walk, building a snowman, a fire in the woods, or a drive to a local state park, getting outside, just for the simple act of celebrating nature is refreshing and revitalizing. There’s always something to celebrate when we look at what God has created.

Celebrate the people you cherish

I’m not a fan of the commercialism that comes with Valentine’s Day. It reminds me of being in eighth grade and receiving chocolate from the awkward boy who followed me around in gym class. But there is beauty beneath all the fanfare. God is love, and a holiday about love holds tremendous power to bless others and provide tangible encounters with God’s love. Find a way to celebrate someone you cherish this month: a card, a visit to the nursing home, a dinner on the doorstep, or a plate of cookies might make someone’s month. It might make yours too.