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.
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!
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. And… Or… Is there something within our souls that is simply drawn to renewal? Of songbirds, Warm breezes, Blooms, 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.
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.
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.“
I’m not a morning person. Never have been, although I always aspire to be one!
This weekend though, I got up for the sunrise. And it was worth it. But it was more than just the sunrise…
My sister and I did a weekend getaway on the Maryland Eastern Shore; we wanted to explore Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, a waterfowl sanctuary for birds migrating along the “Atlantic Flyway.” It seemed like a great place to combine hiking, nature, and opportunities for photography. And it did not disappoint!
The sunrise on Sunday morning was incredible (as was the sunset on Saturday evening!).
I am so thankful we pulled ourselves out of bed at 6am not just because of the sunrise, but for the rare sighting of a massive flock of snow geese. It was a beautiful sensory experience of sight and sound! It also happened to be about 30 degrees, so it was definitely freezing – but worth it!
The sight began as what looked like a giant floating line of white in the crisp blue waters of the marsh. At a closer glance, one could see that it was actually a massive flock of birds floating together on the water. It was beautiful, but after being up so early for the sunrise, we were also ready to get on our way for some coffee and breakfast!
After watching for a few minutes, we started to leave. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted some movement. That’s when the giant wall of snow geese began to take off. And what an incredible sight!
A larger portion of the geese formed a murmuration, a swarming behavior of movement, while other smaller flocks broke away, forming into a V formation and heading off into the rising sun. These beautiful birds breed on the Arctic tundra, and then migrate south to places like Blackwater during the winter, foraging for wood in wetlands and muddy agricultural fields.
Nature is truly amazing!
I’m still thawing out from lots of time outdoors in below freezing temperatures this weekend, but my heart is warm from the natural experience and memories.
The entirety of the morning, waiting and watching for the sun to rise and birds to flock, brought to mind Psalm 130, words that my heart has held closely this past year. Verses 5 and 6 stood out as I shivered on the wetlands’ observation deck, waiting for the sun to peak through the dark morning’s wispy clouds.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
Patience and waiting are a discipline. But with them comes gifts. Practice may not bring perfection, but it will bring peace. And maybe even a rare bird sighting!
COVID, of course, dominated the New Year’s Eve discussions, with essentially everyone toasting to leaving 2020 behind. Flipping the calendar doesn’t mean changing the circumstances though. But it is a great opportunity for reflection and resolve for 2021!
It’s okay to acknowledge how hard 2020 has been. So many people have suffered and lost loved ones. That is a tragedy. But the isolated “social-distanced” living we’ve had to accept has also been a tragedy. I’m not intending this post to be a dissection of government policies over the pandemic; others can do that! But I do think we all must acknowledge that a disconnected lifestyle is not the way we we are supposed to live.
We were made for an embodied existence.
Humans were created with not just a soul, or a mind, but a human body, to be lived out in relationship, the truest reflection of the Creator’s image.
Our bodies are incredibly important, not just how care for them, but how we interact with others. We quite literally need human connection.
A very simple example is from a story I shared this past summer—a gentle touch of the hand from a kind nurse on my arm gave me peace and comfort during a painful cortisone injection I had to get in my back (not fun!!). It was so simple but it not only reassured my anxious body but my distressed emotions as well.
2020 was unique for me in that I was not only experiencing the loss from the lockdowns, but going through the aforementioned physical injury and recovery, learning much about my body. This also coincided with a few classes in theology for my graduates studies in which I researched and wrote on embodiment…this is something that I have been thinking, experiencing, and praying about all year, and why I wanted to write more about it to start 2021. There is so much richness to theologies of the body and embodiment—its truth is a great good to share with the world not only because it is the best way of living for human flourishing, but because it points to the Gospel.
As I played with my niece this Christmas, I was able to marvel at the simple beauty of embodied living. Babies depend on their mother and father to live. And they learn by playing. How can we not see how important our embodiment is? The beauty and mystery of the incarnation was real for me in a new way this year as I soaked up the goodness of life lived abundantly in my body.
Running through snow and along slippery ice with my dogs.
Hugging my sister tight after a year of absence.
Hands covered in cookie dough and rolling out pie crust.
Silly rounds of charades with my family, filled with laughter.
Delighting in sweet and savory treats of tradition that fill my belly with goodness and my heart with warm memories and remembrances of loved ones long gone.
Fingers on ivories for Silent Night as my niece taps away off key notes, her little mind soaking in my presence.
An embodied Christmas was a balm to my soul after this painful year.
I am resolving to live an embodied existence as much as I can in the coming year. It’s not only what my body, spirit, and soul needs, it’s how I best reflect the image of God.
I write this not as someone who has it all figured out—whether during COVID or not. No, I write as one who has failed at this and been failed by others in it. I write as one who is learning, to instruct myself, to humbly share whatever wisdom God speaks to me on this. I am writing this to encourage myself and others to embrace an embodied existence in this new year!
Blessings in the New Year and cheers 🥂 to 2021!
Feel free to share ideas for connecting and embodied living in the comments. 👇🏼
Christmas is coming soon as night falls on the fourth Sunday of Advent.
The anticipation has felt a little more near this year with a snow fall and a cold snap that has kept the snow and ice from melting. When I look out the window and see my landscape bathed in white, I feel the closeness of Christmas a bit more acutely.
The snow as a harbinger of Christmas has been a kind blessing, especially as so much else this season has not been the same. I flipped through photos from this day a year ago, and was reminded of memories and celebrations traipsing through a decorated D.C. with colleagues and friends and a holiday dinner date with my sister, in 2019.
Who knew what was coming in 2020, then? No one. I certainly did not. If we knew the suffering that is soon to ensue we would not choose it. I would not. And yet, my year of pain, has brought much gain to my soul. While the weight of struggle still feels heavy, the freeness of release and the reliance on trust beyond myself has changed me in ways that I know are good.
2020 has been a year of life, interrupted.
But Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, who came to this earth in human form in the humblest of ways, is still Lord.
That is the crux of Christmas—that God came to dwell with humankind. The incarnation and the Trinity are great mysteries of the Christian faith. We cannot fully understand but we can fully know it is true. The life of Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, is real. His death and resurrection are historical events. Christmas is not just a feel-good time of fairytales and lights, it is a time when every person must reckon with the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and choose to make him Lord of their life.
He is not a distant king or an unfeeling god. He is our Creator, who came to earth, in human form to rescue us from the sin and shame which separates us from him.
What child is this, who, laid to rest, On Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, While shepherds watch are keeping? This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing: Haste, haste to bring Him laud, The babe, the son of Mary.
He arrived as a baby, to live and know the life we live in our bodies. He knows our pain.
He was born to give us second birth. By his physical wounds on the cross we have been healed.
He came to save all those who believe. His resurrection promises resurrection for our redeemed bodies, too.
Jesus is Lord. That is good news!
My Advent reflections may have rambled a bit these past weeks, but I have taken the risk this year to write from the heart, in hope that others might know. And even so, I don’t write for the “clicks” but rather to witness to beauty and the truth of God, no matter the audience. Well, my affinity for alliteration has wound its way into this series too, but they are words that God has written on my heart as this hard year, for you and for me, comes to a close:
I often write of the peace and comfort that my relationship with God brings me. And yet true Christianity is not a therapeutic religion. God will change your heart and his consolations are many. But it does not mean a carefree life. Oh no, my friend. Trials and tribulations still come. This Christmas season I pray that you, dear reader, know Jesus as Lord, the King who came to save us. Our trials may not leave, but He alone, will never forsake us. He is with us in the waiting.
After many attempts and pieces of popcorn, this was the best I could do as our digital Christmas card! But it’s 2020 so I’m just grateful and glad I am still laughing and smiling!
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.