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.
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.
Accept the force of the fire. Look for new vistas and fireweed blossoms.
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.
I wandered the shoreline, watching the evening progress through several stages of beauty. The cold of the night contributed to a sensory experience, as I soaked in the crisp air, the colors, and the calls of various birds on the water and in the woods.
Back in my car, the heater blasting as the last vestiges of color faded, I sat for a few minutes thinking about what it is that makes a sunset experience so powerful. After all, I go to this spot frequently to watch the setting sun, shouldn’t it get old?
It doesn’t; it may not be quite as memorable with the colors each time as it was this night (or like THIS STUNNING SUNSET I wrote about last year), but it’s always meaningful. It is a gift, which must be received, with me giving nothing in return. It’s a practice of learning about and receiving God’s love.
To sit and observe the sky, Somersaulting into glorious colors, Is a precious gift.
It’s a liturgy of learning to be still, Of welcoming peace, A practice of receiving love.
As the shades of a setting sun unfold into beauty, All I can do is watch and wait; No where to go but to be present.
This moment is real and true; I am safe and secure, In my space and in the Father’s love.
An evening experience for the senses; So that my soul can rest and receive, The love that is mine, is coming, and that I am becoming.
God’s love is steadfast, enduring, redeeming, and never-ending. As a child of God, I can’t earn it or lose it (just ask the Israelites). It’s so easy to be conditioned through our culture (🙋🏼♀️) that God loves us because we are good, achieve, or do the right things. He desires for us to follow him in obedience, don’t get me wrong! But that doesn’t earn his love; rather, the outflow of a heart that abides in him should be a life of faithfulness. Ultimately, he loves you for who you are, not for what you do.
This can take a lifetime to truly live out, I believe. To rest securely in his love, and not our own control. That’s why each sunset, as a practice of receiving love, is such a gift.
Here’s to becoming a professional sunset-watcher, basking in the light of God’s love!
A song to consider for the week, from Koryn Hawthorne, “How Great,” on the theme of God’s love!
“Grace I don’t deserve Forgiveness I can’t earn For this I will praise you. Love that covers all Love that makes me whole, For this I will praise you.“
As I wandered the woods this weekend, the wind whipped, and the chill cut to my bone. But beams of sunshine and a brisk pace brought warmth to my face and core.
With the trees completely bare, except for a few pines and holly plants, and the leaves crushed along the trail, I was aware of the death all around me. Gone is the vibrancy of summer; it has broken down into this necessary phase of the seasons, the rhythm of renewal for the flourishing of the forest. For new life in spring time, death and detritus must come first.
The woods in winter, is a place of death. Like the world, without Jesus.
As I walked, the Christmas song that danced through my head was one of my modern favorites, Breath of Heaven, by Amy Grant.
Breath of heaven Hold me together Be forever near me Breath of heaven Breath of heaven Lighten my darkness Pour over me your holiness For you are holy
I came upon one of my favorite spots and was struck by the contrast—a little pool created by a mini cascade of fresh water before it forms a creek on its way to the bay.
Watching this little waterfall, was a perfect moment of serenity. Of peace (an answered prayer from last week). The sound of the constant flowing of streaming waters felt true and holy and life-giving.
It was a reminder of gratitude for the living water that is the gift of God.
The spirit of God, the breath of God, is like a well-spring deep within the hearts of those whose believe.
“Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”” John 4:13-14 NIV
There is too much death and destruction in this world to live without this living water. Even the good things won’t ultimately satisfy; they won’t quench the soul’s thirst for God.
This living spring, signed with a seal at baptism when water is poured on the body, is a renewing source. A well of rest and regeneration, supplying the soul with a source for sanctification, each and every day.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV
In the wasting-away woods, the wilderness, and in this world of woes, one needs Jesus.
This Advent season, if you are looking for rest and renewal, strength and serenity, hope and holiness, draw on the living waters of Christ. It is a well that will never run dry.
And all of a sudden, Advent is upon us and Christmas is right around the corner.
The mild weather this weekend allowed for a few hikes crunching through fallen leaves, as waning light led the way through bare trees, and across cold creeks.
The nice temperatures were also a good opportunity, apparently, for many to put up Christmas lights. As I drove home from the woods on Sunday evening at dusk, my neighborhood was adorned with house upon house of Christmas lights. It was lovely!
As Advent begins at the end of this difficult year, there was something about these lights appearing tonight that moved me and brought tears to my eyes—tears filled with sadness but also great hope. Tears of gratitude for the simple beauty and tradition of twinkling lights upon trees, sparkling reindeer, and light-lit nativity scenes.
I’m feeling the tension this year. Isn’t that what waiting is about? The tension between the here and now and what is to come, for whatever we are waiting.
As I joined with my fellow, spaced-apart congregants in a masked but no-less meaningful singing of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” this morning, I was feeling the tension. The tension of those minor chords, noting the lonely exile, and the longing of Israel for its promised Savior, Emmanuel.
I was feeling the tension of the joy of the knowledge of the incarnation, with the weight of the sorrows of this present world, as believers everywhere await the return of the Lord of Might, once and for all, setting all things right.
The tension of waiting is weighty, filled with grief and groans. It pushes and it pulls, punctuated with joy and goodness along the way. All along, it’s underlaid with longing.
But we have the light.
O come, Thou Day-Spring Come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death’s dark shadows put to flight Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel Shall come to thee, o Israel
While I have been feeling the tension, I am praying for peace this season. For myself, of course, for my community, this country, the world. But true peace only comes from Jesus, the one we await in Advent. Christ came, “through the tender mercy of God,” to show the way of salvation. He came as the day-spring, like a rising sun,
“to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.“ Luke 1:78
The light illuminates the pathway of life, as we live as exiles, again, in a world filled with gloomy clouds, and dark shadows of death.
The day-spring lightens our loads, and lifts our tension.
The light leads the way.
Emmanuel, who has come once, and will come again, is the prince of peace.
He is the light of life and love, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Peace and blessings as we wait together this Advent, in the year of our Lord, 2020.
Emmanuel, who has come once, and will come again, is the prince of peace.
Oh what a year it’s been. Here I am smiling on my birthday last year, with no idea what 34/2020 would bring!
Yesterday on a pre-birthday outing, I visited a winery with a dear friend. I have always enjoyed wineries, but this time the spiritual symbolism was jumping out at me.
The vines and branches.
The pruning process.
The grapes and the wine-making.
It’s been a year of crushing, to a degree, for all of us. For me, I’ve been pushed to the brink with physical pain from an injury that sent me to a surgeon. Have persevered through physical therapy, trusting that the daily imperceptible changes add up to full healing. (And praise God, they have!!!)
Through it all, the pruning has been hard. And yet, I know it is for my good—and for God’s glory. That I may bear much fruit for him.
Through this, I have also been learning the value, rather the necessity, of dependence. My family has always been a rock to me. With COVID, my injury, and other challenges, 2020 has showed me, more than ever, how much we need each other.
My parents are especially my heroes! Godly, loving, supportive parents are an incredible blessing and I am eternally grateful for mine!
An abundant grape vine requires care and pruning by a master gardener. Likewise a fine wine does not become so on its own. It is a process—many people play a role.
As I hit 35—an age between two decades—I hope and pray that the work the Lord does in me always points to him. He is in control and his loving-kindness never ends.
As a new year unfolds for me, I pray that his love also flows forth!
Thank you, dear readers, for following along this year! It’s been a joy to spend more time on this blog over the past year.
What a Justin Bieber Music Video Taught Me About Paying Attention
I cried over a Justin Bieber music video. 2020 really is wild.
Watch to the end, when the distraught couple are invited in the “direction of a warm meal.”
Hopefully you made it to the end! It might be understandable if you didn’t…human attention span is decreasing. It doesn’t take a study to recognize our modern dilemma of constant bombardment of information, technology, social media, etc.
The illustration of attentiveness in this video struck me as a beautiful antidote to the noise. I was caught up in the plight of the young couple – burdened by job loss and family abandonment – when a kind soul, who surely is juggling his own trials, notices the homeless pair and invites them to his home. The kind, selfless, non-judgmental hospitality portrayed is beautiful!
I was touched and challenged by this song and video – if I slow down, and pay attention, what might I notice around me?
Every human has a story, with unique wounds and wisdom. If we listen, we can both love and learn.
Every human needs love. We were created by love and for love-in relationship and community.
Every human has a story, with unique wounds and wisdom. If we listen, we can both love and learn.
Ultimately, attentiveness displays kindness, goodness, gentleness…does this ring a bell?
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22, ESV)
These characteristics exude Christ and attract the human heart, opening the door to God’s love – the love we all most desperately need. If there is anything we need next month, I’d say it’s definitely attentiveness with the fruit of the Spirit!
As we continue through a very hard year, and a divisive season as we head into October, I want to challenge myself to pay attention – to notice the humans around me (including when it’s me!) who are hurting and in need of love. Will you join me?
Here are a few specific ideas for practicing and forming a spirit of attentiveness:
Text a friend going through a trial to check-in, and let them know you’ll follow up next week (or invite them to coffee!).
Go for a walk around your neighborhood and leave the phone at home.
The rumble of thunder from a summer storm. The waves of cicadas buzzing each morning and evening.
This weekend, on a leisurely stroll, I came upon some peaceful sights. They were not the most stunning scenes— in comparison to my days on the water or hiking or traveling (remember when we could travel?!). But they were welcoming and lovely, even in their imperfection and messiness.
The beauty of a butterfly—with a broken wing no less—brought much joy. The happy—albeit disheveled—black-eyed susan’s stirred delight.
The blessing of a quiet walk sparked a smile of gratitude.
Seasons of suffering make these simple things—even a simple step outdoors—all the more sweeter.
Seasons of suffering make the simple things all the more sweeter.
I’ve been day-dreaming about wildflowers. They show up in unexpected places on adventures with my four-legged companions.
‘I will believe in my beauty even if no one else sees it’ That’s what the wildflowers whisper These lilies dance to the music of a soft breeze No one is watching or listening But me An interloper and yet also welcomed in their presence I marvel at them in their solitary splendor In a landscape of a hundred shades of green Their fire burns brightly They are free To simply be, Beautiful
I will believe in my beauty even if no one else sees it.
My slice of the world, off the Chesapeake Bay, is a sanctuary of peace and serenity for me (and my dogs!).
There are so many beautiful natural wonders across this nation. Just visit a national park, one of our greatest treasures, and you’ll see!
While we’ve been living through a very hard year, and having just commemorated Independence Day, I’ve been reflecting on America’s greatest treasure—our Constitution and the revolutionary foundation of the Declaration of Independence, that every person is created equal.
It is a profound tragedy that we have not always lived up to that founding ideal, most notably with slavery and the ensuing treatment of black Americans. Women have had to fight for the right to vote, as we marked the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment earlier this year. And the cause to which I have devoted many years, ending the dehumanization of the preborn child, and the mass slaughter by abortion that has snuffed out the lives of over 60 million American babies before they have even had a chance to take breath. These are only a few examples.
And yet, it’s important to see our current day through the eyes of both a historian, and a theologian. America, sins and all, has been the most revolutionary nation on earth. Prior to 1776, nation-states were comprised of subjects not citizens and most claimed a divine right to their sovereigns. And even today, in some of the most powerful nations, the freedom of individuals is sharply curtailed. This is obviously just a very broad brush stroke of history (a longer analysis HERE), as I attempt to simply point out that the ideal that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is truly astounding, especially when you view it in its historical context.
As Americans living in the 21st century, we should absolutely continue to work towards securing those founding ideals of the right to life and liberty, and the guarantees of our Constitution, for every man, woman, and child. And as Christians we have an even higher calling to live obediently to God first and foremost, and to love our neighbors. I like how author and philosopher James K.A. Smith puts it in his book, How We Love:“Our engagement with God’s world is not about running the show or winning a culture war. We are called to be witnesses, not necessarily winners.”
From a theological perspective, until Christ returns, there will always be trials and tribulations in this world as a result of sin. There will always be discord among men and women, within and among nations. We can’t achieve utopia; we must be prudent and realistic. However, God does teach us about seeking “the welfare of the city,” about pursuing justice, mercy, and righteousness, about caring for the poor, orphans, and widows. One day, in the new Kingdom, all will be made right.
Until then, we have our work ahead of us. And I, for one, will continue to criss-cross America the beautiful to find restoration and strength for this journey from the natural and healing power of creation!