What is this Season Inviting You To?

The wind whipped today, and I found myself shivering a few times while out with my dogs, despite being bundled in my winter coat, and gloves, freshly pulled from the closet for the first time since April. The weekend too, felt different, with rains, wind, the cold coming in, and sparse sunshine.

A new season is upon us.

There’s no hiding from it, especially considering NEXT WEEK is Thanksgiving. Which means Christmas will creep up in no time.

I’m still trying to hold on to the bits and pieces of fall, though. I came upon this beautiful spot last week, as the fall colors were desperately holding on for a few more days of glorious color.

The scene appeared to me as a welcoming, an invitation. Perhaps it was its warmth, or its opening to a world of color; I’m not sure exactly, but I do know that I want to receive this beautiful invitation.

And so I wonder…what will these weeks hold? What is this season inviting me to?

That’s the question on my heart.

There is certainly a pull to the hustle and bustle, frantic rushing, fretting over supply chain issues, making and performing so that everything is just right, or at least looks just right on Instagram.

But I don’t think that’s what our hearts truly want.

What if we could heed the invitation to slow down, to look, and listen, to soak up the season for all that it truly is?

That type of attentiveness and openness to the world around us seems to become harder in this holiday season – gone are the gorgeous sights of spring, summer, and beautiful spots like these from the fall.

And instead we come upon the barrenness of the winter.

But even in a season of darkness and decay, there is light and there is life happening below the surface…Will we notice it?

I have been learning and striving in this work, as I’ve shared a bit about with summer wildflowers, fireweed, and the unfurling of ferns. But I am still learning, always learning. And right now, I am really enjoying thinking about this spiritual practice in terms of holy noticing.

In his book, Holy Noticing: The Bible, Your Brain, and the Mindful Space Between Moments, Charles Stone describes this as “Noticing, with a holy purpose, God and His handiwork, our relationships, and our inner world of thoughts and feelings.” But central to this slowing down and awareness to both surroundings and what’s going on inside us, is noticing God first and foremost, and trusting his goodness and timing, accepting that we do not know and see everything.

What an invitation that is!

To see, to notice the good, to trust.

That is the invitation that I am going to accept for this season, even if in some moments it is more of a begrudging acceptance. And I hope you will join me, too. But whatever the invitation that is on your heart this season, I hope you will accept.

May we all find the opening to slow down, and to listen to whatever the welcoming is that weighs on our soul. And when we slow down, when we listen, may we hear and know the lovingkindness of the Lord.

Recent Posts:

Summer Wildflowers

The summer is slipping away. I don’t want it to end. Do you?

I like to hold on to every moment of a shifting season. To day by day, notice the small changes. The angle of the sun. Flicks of color in the leaves. The golden hue of autumn creeping in.

Perhaps it’s a manifestation of anxiety? Go slow because the prospect of fast change is too much? Or, settled into the rhythms of one season, there is fear of what the next one will bring?

How can one entirely know? I’m not sure. But as I grow, and continue in this new slow pace though, I am learning how the Lord is gracious with all that’s on our heart, including every fear, and every hope.

With a new season on the horizon—he has reminded me, there will always be new delights along the way. Even if it’s as simple as an unexpected wildflower, the simple joys are there. Sometimes, you may just have to wander off the beaten path or look a little more closely.

I have been amazed to discover new wildflowers blooming in places I never remembered…of a gorgeous fall color palette, soaking up the late summer sun.

I’m grateful for these late summer wildflowers, a show of God’s creativity and provision. I don’t know what this fall will bring, but I know God will be with me—will be with you—in it all.

Looking for the Fireweed of Life

Fires are deadly and destructive. At both Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, I saw first-hand the damage that wildfires can do.

On a hike along St. Mary’s Lake in Glacier National Park, I could even still smell the effects – the odor of burnt wood still wafted in the air.

Fires unfortunately happen. Sometimes it’s negligence, which is incredibly frustrating, criminal-even. And often, it happens more naturally – dry conditions and a lightning strike.

I’m not a botanist, or a naturalist, or a park ranger (obviously!) but I do like looking for the meaning and significance in the natural world around me. And I think fires have something to tell us.

Fires change the terrain. There is a ton of interesting reading one can find about the value of fire to the environment. Here’s a snippet from the National Park Service (click the images below to read more):

“Fire is part of a cycle in most ecosystems. It reduces dead vegetation, stimulates new growth, and improves habitat for wildlife, many of the details park visitors imagine when they think of a national park. With fire suppression, fire was removed from the cycle and ecosystems began to get out of balance.”

An informational sign for the Three Falls Trail, my aforementioned hike, noted “The Reynolds Fired burned most of this area in 2015. The fire opened up new vistas and wildflowers abound in this dramatically changed landscape.”

And I love this description from a National Geographic informational book on the impact of the great fires of 1988 on Yellowstone:

What an interesting metaphor – the creative destruction of fire.

As I hiked through the burned out forest at Glacier, and yet was overcome by the beauty of the view of the lake and the beautiful wildflowers growing everywhere, I couldn’t help think of what a picture it painted for my own life. Metaphorical destruction, and yet beauty coming up from the ashes.

Don’t we all have fires in our lives?

Sometimes, they are fast and quick, the damage can be minimized. Other times, the fire is all-consuming, destroying everything in its wake. Nothing is familiar, and you’re forced to navigate wholly unfamiliar terrain. Perhaps even your body bears the physical scars, an additional handicap to moving forward.

How to go on?

First, grieve the fire. Give your body, your heart time to rest.

And then?

Accept the force of the fire. Look for new vistas and fireweed blossoms.

“Fireweed is a tall showy wildflower that grows from sea level to the subalpine zone. A colorful sight in many parts of the country, fireweed thrives in open meadows, along streams, roadsides, and forest edges. The name fireweed stems from its ability to colonize areas burned by fire rapidly. It was one of the first plants to appear after the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980. Known as rosebay willowherb in Great Britain, fireweed quickly colonized burned ground after the bombing of London in World War II, bringing color to an otherwise grim landscape.”

Where are the new landscapes opened up in life – that you never could have dreamed of before?

What are the new wildflowers that are now free and open to germinate, blossom, and flourish – bringing unexpected beauty and delight?

How are the debris and dead trees providing an opportunity for new life to come alive?

I am not minimizing the utter destruction, pain, and impact of fire. I know it first-hand. But I have also experienced the complicated beauty of the wildfire. Life can find a way. There is always newness available. Fireweed will appear.

And above all else, on the moments when there’s not a glimpse or a hope of the fireweed, I can know that the Creator of this vast world is with me – when my reality and body are threatened, my soul is always safe:

When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.

(Isaiah 43:2)

It is truly incredible to me how the earth can regenerate after fire. Nature is pretty amazing! And yet, I don’t think it’s surprising given that is just how God works – always working towards redemption.

Keep looking for fireweed, friends.

Yellowstone, You’re Amazing!

Where is the summer going?!?!

My end-of-summer-angst is setting in. It’s almost August, and it feels like the fading summer. The days are a little shorter. The sun’s a little longer. The cicadas are buzzing. The grass is drying up. There are even some changing leaves in my favorite spots.

Time is just always moving along, isn’t it?

I have needed time recently –  to reflect on some traveling I was blessed to do in July. It was a memorable – epic even – adventure, with my parents and sister. It was celebratory for various family reasons. And for myself, it signified SO much. Such as a milestone victory from just the prior July going through a (minor) back surgery, after 8 months of severe, debilitating pain…traveling and hiking takes on a whole new meaning when you are grateful for every single step!

We ventured out west, to visit a few national parks, most notably, Yellowstone National Park – the first, the oldest, and the most unique (I’d say!) park in the U.S.A. I was blown away!

It’s been a few weeks now – it’s taken time to let it all sink in, to sift through my pictures, to think through my thoughts. My most simple summary is this: it was refreshing; it was beautiful and incredibly awe-inspiring; and it grew my gratitude for home.

To try and pick a favorite feature from the trip is challenging. I tend to be drawn to themes, which is what I am gravitating towards to make sense of what I saw out west.

Here’s how I’d group my favorite aspects:

  • Water
  • Wildflowers
  • Wide-open spaces

Working on blog posts to elaborate on each of these, so stay tuned for more words and pics!

The incredible water features, wildflowers, and wide-open spaces were stunning, and signified some meaningful messages. Everything is just so much bigger, and bolder out west, it seems to me. And yet – by the end of trip when some anxiety got stirred – I found myself going to peaceful places in my mind to calm myself – my nature spots back home. Perhaps not quite as grand, not quite as wide-open, but familiar, safe, and beautiful to me.

Nature can’t just be a sightseeing, thrill-seeking adventure. Nature is needed, day in and day out, or at least, week in and week out! The mountaintop experiences (literally for me on this trip) are incredible! But the daily nurturing of our need for creation takes cultivation. And as I have found through years of trials, it’s life-changing. In small, simple ways that take effect over time.

Yellowstone is absolutely amazing. The incredible beauty and uniqueness of it will grow your love for nature and the outdoors. Plus, the grandness of it, will make you feel small – a healthy perspective for all of us – yet will simultaneously remind you of your place in the world, being known and loved by the Creator of all of Yellowstone’s majesty. So go to Yellowstone – soak up every square inch of it (as we attempted in 3 jam-packed days!). AND, go to your park, your place, your little square foot of yard or backyard garden, and soak up the peace of Creation, and the love and signs of God, that flow through it every day.

The Unfurling of Ferns

It’s now officially summer! And it felt like it this weekend with hot and sunny Maryland weather!

Hiking along a favorite trail Saturday evening, my dogs and I came across a forest ridge filled with ferns—after some rain recently, everything is looking so green, lush, and alive!!

Ferns have been on my mind a lot over the past season and as I’ve reflected on the spring, and my hopes for it I wrote about here. It was a different spring for me. A spring without physical pain, where I could walk and explore. A spring where I had more time without a work commute. Yes, much still lurks under the surface, but it’s been a quiet spring.

And so I have gone to the woods. Like I always have over the years, to stay grounded, and connected to reality. To breathe the fresh air, to listen to the sounds of safe solitude. To connect with my Creator.

I’ve walked my favorite paths over and over again, and explored new trails that have become new favorites. I’ve delighted in spring ephemerals like bluebells, and woodland blossoms like mountain laurel. It’s been a beautiful spring—a good spring filled with beauty and newness and hope.

With spending so much time in the woods this spring, and my head and my heart in a much more clear place to take a slow pace, I was so much more keenly aware of the awakening woods and things like… ferns. Yes, simple ferns.

Ferns are fairly ubiquitous in the woods, but I suppose I had never noticed them in the springtime as they are coming up out of the earth, unfurling. But this spring I did! And wow, are they cool!!

Everywhere I turned in the woods this spring, these little fern coils kept jumping out at me—all different types of ferns. Seeing them progress over the weeks brought so much delight and joy! A friend even teased me on a hike for what she considered my over-exuberance for ferns!

But, that is who I’ve been this spring, a woman enthralled with ferns along woodland trails. It’s been a strange path that’s brought me to this place, of noticing and finding joy in unfurling ferns. A complicated one—one of grief and the feeling of missing out on so many other non-fern joys. A path that I wouldn’t choose, yet I’m grateful for how it’s refined me and for who I’ve become in my fern-awareness and appreciation. How to make sense of that? You don’t, you just accept it—while the sorrow can’t be erased, perhaps the hollowed out places can be filled with simple, reliable joy and contentment in the simple delights of this world? If we notice them—like unfurling ferns.

The ferns have also been teaching me about patience. The beauty of a vibrantly green lush fern starts with a little coiled spring, and slowly, slowly, with imperceptible changes each day, those little corkscrews become a woodland of glorious ferns.

Growth and beauty and flourishing take time. It’s hard to notice the movement day by day, but it’s happening. Because that is just how God, the author of beauty and flourishing, works. On the days I doubt, I go back to this truth. On the days it’s hard to go on, I cling to nature’s reminders of redemption.

And now, I think of the unfurling ferns as a reminder too. They will become a glorious forest floor of beautiful ferns, in time. The journey is often hard and confusing, yet there are still the sweet gifts of woodland delights to be found, for simple joy and reminders of truth.

A newly discovered song, an old hymn, God Moves in Mysterious Ways, also speaks to this beauty and the patience in trusting God’s guiding hand:

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
But trust Him for His grace
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face

His purposes will ripen fast
Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste
But sweet will be the flower

Gratitude. Delight. Patience. Trust. These are the lessons of unfurling ferns. Enjoy the woodland blankets of them for now, and remember to look for the coils next spring!

The Bluebells of Susquehanna

A highlight of my spring has been experiencing the wild flowers along the Susquehanna River, particularly the Virginia Bluebells.

I’ve hiked at Susquehanna State Park for several years, and have fond memories of the park as a little girl, but I now realize I had been missing out on the springtime delights found there!!

I first noticed the bluebells at the end of March, as I hiked the ridge line trail, and was intrigued by the tiny purple blossoms I saw sprouting up.

When I returned a few weeks later with my dogs for another hike, I was pleasantly surprised to see that these were beautiful blue wildflowers—Virginia Bluebells—all throughout the park!

I was so enthralled by the beauty of these flowers, I was drawn back to them several times. I particularly wanted to see the the bluebells with different types of lighting, so I visited for both a sunrise and sunset—both were lovely in their own way!

The sunrise experience was my favorite. It was a perfect April Saturday morning with glorious sunshine for several hours before turning cloudy. The bluebells in the morning light were stunning—I truly encourage anyone local to visit next year—it’s hard to describe how dense the flowers are along the river, making for an absolutely breathtaking scene. And with the chorus of birdsong throughout the early morning hours, my sunrise experience with the bluebells of the Susquehanna filled my heart with so much joy!

A few days later, I rushed off to the park after work to try and make the sunset. There is one spot on the ridge line trail where there is a dense portion of bluebells, right where the sun would be setting, and I was hoping to be there for the moment those setting rays of light would be hitting the hillside. As I arrived at the spot, my heart sunk as it seemed like I had just missed it. I paused, with some disappointment settling in, and reminded myself to just change my perspective. Sure enough, as I moved further up the trail, I was greeted with the beams of the setting sun lighting up those bunches of delicate blue flowers! The picture (of course) does not do it justice.

How wonderful it has been to discover this natural beauty so close to home. It’s reminded me of the simple delights that come with nature. Sometimes life can get into a pattern of monotony that can feel hard—and then a new joy from an old place is discovered. On the other hand, just like the seasons, life can feel like it’s always changing and never certain—which sparks gratitude for the comforting familiarity of favorite places. And whatever is happening, there is always the constancy of light. There may be cloudy days, but the sun is always there. Just like God’s love, guiding, leading, and making life beautiful.

Life is hard. But there is beauty. There is light. There are bluebells along the Susquehanna River…and I can’t wait to visit them every spring for wildflower delight.

How can you not feel happiness in this place?

For a more botanic description of the bluebells and their presence at the Susquehanna, check out: “THE BLOOMING BLUEBELLS OF THE LOWER SUSQUEHANNA RIVER, MARYLAND,” by THE SANGUINE ROOT: A Website about Urban Environmental Restoration in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.

And lastly, a few comparison shots of sunrise light vs sunset light!

And a glorious sunrise and sunset picture for good measure!

Mark your calendar for next April to visit the bluebells at Susquehanna State Park!

Gratitude for Gifts Along the Way

It’s been a lovely spring so far! I have been soaking up lots of glorious sights – blooms, blossoms, and beautiful scenery.

I’ve also been blessed to be very active – with lots of hiking and adventures with my dogs. We’ve discovered new trails, along with the joy of favorite trails re-discovered.

With the weather getting warmer, we’ve also enjoyed swimming! Well, the dogs have enjoyed the swimming, and I greatly enjoy watching them and attempting to capture videos of their hilarious antics.

Trying to catch some ducks

We’ve visited our favorite spot a number of times as the sun is fading. Last weekend was a stunning sunset. It was the dogs’ first time back swimming in the Bay since last October (?) and they didn’t miss a beat. Their swimming ability always amazes me.

It occurred to me this week that it’s been exactly four years since Hunter got hit by a car. And yet, on Saturday he hiked over 6 miles with me, and on Sunday he swam, and swam, and swam. I am so incredibly grateful he recovered from the accident and injury!

Hunter, enjoying a swim and the sunset!

A remembrance like that, brings a flood of gratitude. Life has been quite difficult in those four years since, and my dogs, Hunter and Scout, have been some of my greatest blessings.

Just a girl and her dogs watching the sunset! 😂

It’s hard to understand our trials, suffering, challenges. I believe God wants us to ask the questions, but to remember not to “lean on our own understanding.” I certainly can’t make sense of it all, and am continually learning to lean into “trusting the Lord with all my heart.”

But what I do know – is that God is with us in our trials. He is always present and will never leave us. Nothing can separate his love from us. That love has been the rock that has kept me afloat.

He also provides. And for me, these precious dogs have been an incredible provision that have brought me so much love and comfort when all else has been dark and lonely. And they have provided so much joy, fun, and laughter!

So today, I am grateful for a pup that survived a car accident, and for the joy that my two pups bring me, that has helped me survive the trials of life.

Gratitude doesn’t take away challenges, but it sure feels good, and gives perspective. In this season of new life and blossoming, may we all be filled with gratitude and the grace to go on!

And here’s to more beautiful springtime sunsets!

Mountain Views

Family time in the mountains is always a good thing. As the year mark passed on COVID, I could not be more thankful for time spent in the woods my loved ones. There’s something about the mountains, especially at springtime, when new life is ready to burst.

Mountains surround me

I breathe in air, crisp and clear

My gaze lifts, upwards

The first blooms begin

Tree buds are ready to burst

Life renews, again

Clouds and fog roll along

Sunshine breaks, painting the sky

Peace flows from above

May spring continue to abound in beauty, whether you’re on a mountain top or not!

Wintering and the Hope of Springtime

It’s been a beautiful winter…as I wrote about last week. This first week of March in Maryland was still quite cold! And yet, there was a feel of spring in the air, with the upcoming week having a forecast of temperatures in the low 60s!

It was a weekend of more snow geese, on a frigid Saturday evening in Pennsylvania, still with snow on the ground. It was definitely representative of my gratitude for what this winter has been in discovering new pursuits and delight in nature.

A Sunday hike with sunshine brought thoughts of spring. I’ve also been starting to see daffodils shoot up in my neighborhood! The first sighting stirred something within me—my longing for spring. It’s felt especially poignant after a year of hardship, not only with COVID, but personally, after a year of back pain and surgery, which prevented me from experiencing spring last year.

I’ve been thinking of that for a few weeks, and working on some words to reflect it. Enjoy, and may the hope of springtime feel strong in your heart!

The sidewalk led me around the familiar neighborhood,
Strewn with vestiges of February’s ice and snow.
The sun set slowly behind me,
While the near full moon shone brightly ahead.
I rounded a corner and saw a neighbor’s flower bed, still with a few spots of snow,
With shoots of daffodils starting to emerge from the soil.
Something stirred in me, seeing those stems,
Pushing through the earth, starting their journey above ground.
With the sting of the winter winds gone, and birds chirping in the distance,
A few deep-seeded tears came to the surface,
Reflecting an ache and a hope;
A longing for spring,
For spaces long dormant to come alive.

I’ve been bundled in sweaters, scarves, and coats for months, a welcome relief from the cold,
A blessing I don’t overlook.
Home has cocooned me, protecting me from the elements,
But the long dark nights keep me inside and isolated.
Now I long to shed these layers and let the sun shine on my skin, to relish in a gentle breeze and soak up the warmth of rays of light.
To embark outside my four walls and explore the outdoors,
Free and unfettered.
Alive and attune to the natural world around me.

So intense is this desire,
I wonder what’s wrong with me,
Or where this is coming from.
Is it just my penchant for pretty flowers?
The exhaustion from shoveling snow?
The lack of sunlight?
Perhaps just my seasonal, and otherwise, depression.
Is there something within our souls that is simply drawn to renewal?
Of songbirds,
Warm breezes,
And butterflies?

I don’t want to wish the winter out of existence.
There’s great beauty to be found in it;
I see this looking at the delicate intricacies of a small snowflake,
Or moonlight shining through a frozen forest of snow capped trees.
But it’s not just the beauty.
Acceptance of the season, and all of the necessary things that are happening,
Has allowed me to make peace with the winter.
Even in the hibernating, the quiet, the darkness,
There are meaningful things taking place;
And the rest, is restorative.

The cold cannot go on, though.
I am thankful for the wintering,
And acknowledge growth gained.
But the human heart is wired for winter to end;
The hope of spring is deep within.
And so, I don’t want these longings to languish;
To become numb and frozen,
Okay with an endless winter;
Because bulbs are no good if they stay buried.

Thus, in this transitioning time,
I welcome the gratitude for winter,
And the peace that comes with its acceptance,
And I also allow my longings for spring to be piqued.
I start looking for signs,
Harbingers like the daffodils,
And the pure happiness of a chorus of cardinals.
As they start to appear, and make themselves heard,
My spirit lifts and my heart feels lighter.
This is hope, in the watching and the waiting for springtime.

Newness and life alive is on the horizon.
This is what we were made for;
Each season has its place,
And the fall and winter will come again,
But it’s the regeneration that sings a sweet song to my soul.

The hope of springtime fuels the spirit;
Without it, how to go on?
It’s coming.
And so I wait, I watch.
I keep walking the path in front of me,
Seeing those shoots press further above ground each day.
The daffodils will be dancing soon.

February Winterscapes

God allays our fears in ways we don’t always expect.

Going into this winter, I was worried about the long, cold nights combined with continued COVID cancellations and isolation.

But the Lord brought an unexpected delight in January and especially February—snow!! We received an above average amount of snow in Maryland, making for some beautiful scenery and lots of fun exploring and playtime! Even the cold temperatures kept the snow around, allowing for hikes through the woods with glorious sunshine on the snow!

The freezing temperatures plus the tide created an amazing icy landscape at my favorite place along the Chesapeake Bay.

And then there’s home. It’s hard for me to believe these gorgeous scenes are right in my backyard.

I’m incredibly grateful. Life has been far from pretty, but God has given me natural beauty and the value of home for moments like these.

What a beautiful winter it has been!!!

And now we turn to March, the month of transitioning weather in Maryland. While the winter has been wonderful, I’m feeling hope for spring in my heart.

So here’s to gratitude, for beauty even in the dead, icy seasons. And here’s to newness, springtime, and looking for beauty even in the little places.