Category Archives: In Nature

By His Grace, To Be His Lenses

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Ps. 19:1, 2, 411087717_10153205131874214_4981049671247812487_o

I’m a Psalm 19 woman–one of those for whom God makes truth palpably clear, a doubting Thomasina who must press my fingers in His handprints to believe.

And His handprints are everywhere. I remember the first shock–the first obvious evidence of this great and awesome God we cannot imagine Who bends down to eyeless worms to give us glimpses of His beauty and majesty.

I was in high school Biology, a staunch and self-righteous Catholic, dropped off at Mass weekly by embattled parents who agreed that children should attend church, though they August 2015 038themselves came only during truces, when they played Chinese checkers by night.

I remember following them across the parking lot at those times, eyeing the hand-holding hopefully, wondering how long it would last. But it was never long.  I became religious, but I didn’t yet know the saving power of grace and forgiveness. I didn’t know Jesus.

In high school Biology, I bent over the eye of a microscope, fiddling the little mirror into place until it should reflect enough light to illuminate whatever mystery hid in the elodea leaf on the glass.

At last, angled light penetrated the leaf, the lens magnified the mystery to giant-sized, and I gasped at the glory of God evident in the tiny cells.Sept 2015 004

There I saw chloroplasts– glowing green factories that turn light energy into sugar to feed every part of plant and tree. They bustled about like stained-glass nannies in the cry ward.

I remember the vision yet, though I never saw it again. It hooked me on the reality, omnipotence, and incomprehensibility of God–in awe that He allowed me to glimpse such things about Him.

For why should He show me?August 2015 233 In those teen years, I drank, I swore, I feared my mother, and was ashamed of my father. I practiced the sacraments, but my heart boiled with evil, like one of the white-washed sepulchric Pharisees Jesus condemned to their faces.

But He had mercy on me and showed me not only chloroplasts but what they meant.

Later, I saw His handprints in the births of our four children, though I nearly died with the first. I slipped along towards Him and He sent me back, so I might see His handprints again through the lenses of children and parenting.

In them He revealed how His fatherhood of me could inform my ignorant parenting of themAugust 2015 195

and how depression, self-loathing, and paralyzing fear had no power against love, laughter, and the light in children’s eyes when they presented me with tender words I didn’t deserve, written in childish scrawls on handmade Mother’s Day cards.

Through the lens of His word I learned that time doesn’t heal all wounds save by the glare of Holy Spirit truth, the shedding of tears, the embrace of thanksgiving, the blood of forgiveness, the balm of kindness, the steel of humility, and the ferocity of abiding love.

I see His handprints through the lens of the Perseids meteor shower, when Big Bang rocks crash through the atmosphere–red, green, and blue–and my blink of tiny dust bows to Him in the vastness, beauty, and testimony of His creation.

I see Him through the lens of rest in SabbathOct 2015 004 sheep fields, the cares of the week floating away with the tumble of clouds and the quiet certainty that just as no one could mistake the artist in my pottery, so I cannot mistake my Creator in the gifts of peace and changing sky.

And I want to be a lens–that others might see Jesus, too.

Maybe you’re a Psalm 19 believer, too? Do you see His handprints through the lens of His creation? Do you want to be His lens to others?Sept 2015 055

Lord, thank You for this amazing creation that speaks of Your majesty. By Your grace, teach us how to be Your lenses that we might reflect, magnify, and illuminate the mystery of You to others.

When You Need the Ear of God in the Fast Water

An elk bugled under a night sky spilled with stars like grains of sugar. My heart lifted. The next morning, I bowed my head under the firs by the creek to listen to the Lord, marveling at King David’s request in Psalm 31:

“In You, O Lord, I put my trust; Let me never be ashamed; Deliver me in Your righteousness. Bow down Your ear to me. Deliver me speedily; Be my rock of refuge…” (verses 1,2).Sept. 2015 016

Did you see that? “Bow down Your ear to me.”

What gave David the courage to make so daring a request?

I searched the creek for empty caddis fly casings for a mosaic wall. These marvels of engineering—tubular accretions of sand—protect the nymph in its larval stage when it crawls the creek bottom like a snail in a shell.

Discarded tubes were hard to find. The drought-depleted creek runs so slowly this year a thick layer of scum covers most of the creek bed.

Lord, flood me with the water of Your grace and joy. Wash away the scum of worry. Help me trust You for what I cannot see. Sept. 2015 045

Under a rough stone seven large caddis fly casings clustered—cemented to their rock of refuge to await next spring. Safe from enemies, they bathe in life-giving water in the deepest part of the creek where no scum grows, to survive summer’s drought.

The fast water.

I wedged the rock down again. The winter creek will run several feet above it, crashing and deadly, but the caddis flies will be safe. I can see the perfect analogy. But I’m afraid of the fast water.

Maybe you are, too?

I once had a ewe named Dolly who was scared of the fast water. Every spring, wSept. 2015 035hen her water bag broke and her lambs squeezed towards the outside world, she came to the barn and fell in the straw, faint with terror.

The other ewes dug holes for nests, murmured sweetly to their unborn lambs, and lay down to push, their bellies inflated like balloons. They licked and talked to their newborns, nudging them towards life-giving udders.

Not Dolly. As the wracking tremors crossed her belly, she’d head straight  into shock, eyes closed, ears growing cold, silent except for the grinding of her teeth, setting mine on edge. Every year it was the same story.OldCompBackup 1291

Bow down your ear to me. Deliver me speedily.

Often I had to pull her lambs out quickly, rip suffocating sacs away, rub the lambs
down, and swing them to clear their lungs of fluid, while Dolly’s eyes slowly glazed over.

A Vitamin B shot changed all that. In seconds, Dolly would lift her head. She’d stare at her babies, wobbly on their legs, hungry. She’d lick them excitedly, head to tail. She’d bawl loudly, announcing her victory as though she’d won Olympic Gold in the Birthing Event.

But after several years of emergency lambings, I had to give up on Dolly. And that’s the biting edge of my fear when I struggle with the same things over and over–that God will give up on me. Do you ever worry that way?

But God says, “I wAugust 2015 206ill never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

My shepherding was limited by resources, genetics, and stamina. But Jesus is the omnipotent Good Shepherd Who cares for us forever. It was David’s intimate knowledge of the character of God that gave him the courage to ask Him to bow down His ear.

“In You, O Lord, I put my trust.”

Spending time with God in His word and prayer builds that same intimacy and knowledge. With it, we defeat the enemy of our souls who knows how to tweak truth just enough to turn it into a lie, keeping our focus on our limiting weakness instead of God’s limitless power.

O Lord Who made the Milky Way, the bugling elk, and caddis fly, bow down Your ear to us. Be our Rock of Refuge where the water runs deep and fast, our Vitamin B to stand firm in trials. Lift our heads that we might focus on Your sufficiency, instead of our weaknesses.Sept. 2015 041

“Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24).

 

How to Make a Celebration Branch

Nehemiah had guts. As cupbearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes during the Babylonian exile of the Jews, he was the king’s last defense between a poisoned drink and death. Every day Nehemiah’s life was at stake.August 2015 163 (2)

Every day required supernatural courage to perform his duties. And Nehemiah knew where to find it.

So when he went to Jerusalem and finished rebuilding the wall with the returned captives, he could hardly wait to share the book of the Law of Moses with the people. But when they heard it, they wept.

Nehemiah said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

It’s tempting to focus on weaknesses and dangers. But that’s like focusing the beam of a lighthouse so narrowly on the shoals, we can’t see the safe harbor just ahead.

Nehemiah reminds us to open our eyes to enjoy God, to share His gifts with others, and to rejoice because He has accomplished all His purposes. Our joy is in His sufficiency, and in that joy is our strength.April 2015 049

In keeping with Nehemiah’s instruction, here are info and directions for the Celebration Branch, as promised. The idea of a branch comes from Leviticus.

Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches, and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.” (Leviticus 23:,40)

The people of Israel gathered branches to make shelters for the Feast of Booths,   a week-long Thanksgiving celebration after the harvest.

Our Celebration Branch is a little different. We hang a branch above our kitchen table, and decorate it to reflect times of thanksgiving and joy in our family year-around.August 2015 399

Examples:

To celebrate the arrival of a newborn, foster, or adopted child, hang photos, shoes, rattles, toys, words of welcome, etc. For an exchange student,  add welcomes in English and their native language, and brochures about places to share.

In Autumn, use artificial leaves, pencils, crayons, grades and photos of each school child and phrases about their hopes and dreams for the year.

At Thanksgiving, hang photos, drawings, or lists of things you’re grateful for, along with hand print or pine cone turkeys, strings of candy corn, etc.

The Celebration Branch is a perfect place for Jesse Tree,  Advent, or other traditional Christmas ornaments including candy canes, stars, evergreen sprigs, snowflakes, Nativity figures, or gold ribbon.Nov-Dec 2014 023 (2)

Small cards with Easter promises can dangle amongst fresh or artificial flowers such as forsythia and lilies, along with other symbols of new life such as eggs and chicks.

Birthday or baptism celebrations might include the photo of a child, interests, strengths, testimony, favorite things,  and other clues of how God has made them, such as small toys and books.

For summer vacation with the cousins, we hung crayon resist watercolors of flowers, frogs, and butterflies (See my post, “How to Make a Luscious Crayon Resist).

As you can see, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Here’s how to make your Celebration Branch:

  1. Take a walk in the wSept 2015 026oods and look for an interesting branch with lots of smaller twigs. Mine is a fir branch about five feet long, but yours can be longer or shorter as you desire.
  2. Remove leaves or needles from the branch and trim the side twigs until your branch is a pleasing shape.
  3. Hang the branch from your ceiling with several large eye hooks and strong string, making certain you screw at least some of the hooks through drywall into wood at each end so the branch can’t fall and hurt someone.
  4. Jazz up your branch with ribbon, bias-cut fabric, vines, lights, or glitter glue before you decorate it.
  5. Poke tiny holes in your decorations and hang them from your branch with light string or thread.
  6. Finally, friends, when you look at the branch, remember to rejoice in the God who gives you courage for each day, as He gave Nehemiah.

“Rejoice in all you11147035_10153285429579214_4948497860104946008_nr doings in which the Lord Your God has blessed you.” (Deuteronomy 12:7, The Fifth Book of the Law of Moses)

Even Caterpillars Speak

Tim has gone to work and Lara is still sleeping. I take the dogs out and tell myself today–today!–I will sit down with God to bow my head in His beauty and kindness and love. It has been too long. Even a day away from Him–how can I know I’m going the right way?

Sometimes I think for God to have a relationship with me is like me trying to have a relationship with caterpillars. I’m so big they can’t really see me. They certainly can’t understand me.

They bumble along and I watch over them, trying to put them in the path of food andJune 2015 026 (2) water and trees to climb, keeping birds and mice from devouring them, or the red-headed ants from turning them into larval snack bars. I divert them from crossing asphalt to oblivion.

Sometimes they head towards the clearing–bare dirt–where bulldozers move stumps and branches into piles for burning. Perhaps the caterpillars don’t know the cut green is already dead, that the parched soil holds no sustenance and no future for them.

The caterpillars stubbornly go their own way, not realizing they must stay in the living green where morning dew, rye grass, and maples rise. They don’t know they must climb higher to weave a temporary tomb and sleep in order to become butterflies.June 2015 010

So I put obstacles in their way to turn them from destruction they cannot imagine. I move them to where they think they don’t want to go. They are terrified of me, though I have only good planned for them. They writhe and twist in my hand, trying to get away.

That is me in the Lord’s hands sometimes–writhing–frightened and senseless as a worm, forgetting He has only good for me and for you.

When I had to give up my farm I was disconsolate. I fell into deep mourning. And my husband, who had been the catalyst for the move, came to agree with me it had been the wrong choice.

But, as our eyes gradually opened to the dew and green around us, to the new heights we could climb, we also agreed that in everything we had never left God’s hands. 

We came to see that, beautiful and healing as the farm had been for me, the move was necessary because of our stubborn hearts. The move kept us from a greater devastation–the destruction of our marriage.June 2015 036

Had we, in humility and reverence, addressed long-term marital issues while living at the farm, the move might have been averted. But the farm was big enough we could bury the truth and go our own self-serving ways, to the death of our vows.

So God took us to a smaller place where we could no longer escape the grave of lies. He is a God of truth, not a God of hiding. Like Adam and Eve, He searched out our runaway hearts and sent us from the Garden.

He led us into a relational wilderness where we had to speak truth to each other to forge a new life; to remove deep thorns we’d pretended didn’t exist, to learn how to listen, to hammer forgiveness and love into a strong shelter.

When the truth has been buried so long, exposing it releases a stench.For us, it stank of loud voices and deadly silence, slammed doors, bitter tears, despairing prayer.

And then, the little kindnesses began–times of red tulips and hauling trash cans, times of stumbling to learn how to nourish each other, to touch our deepest needs, to climb higher and join with God in His butterfly work of everlasting transformation.June 2015 022

And now, beginning to shed our caterpillar skins, we face new challenges and new opportunities for trust.

This time, there is a unity of shared joy as we go hand-in-hand writing the next chapter in the story of our lives, as we speak truth to one another about differences and needs, as we rest in God’s hands and seek His direction–as we prepare to stretch the trustworthy wings of the future He has graciously given us.

How do you see your relationship with God? What has He done in your life to give you new wings?

 

 

 

Healing Spaces

Tall grasses lacy with seed tickle my fingers–beautiful if I weren’t a child again, hiding from my mother in fields and swamps. That was a long time ago, I remind myself. Then the field daisies fling me back to our wedding, and the priest who said we hadn’t a chance.

Why tell myself only the bad stories? Is this part of the grief process?

Down at the creek, I search for the water ouzel–God’s little joke–a bird that flies underwater. I often see her hop on stones, study the chattering stream, brave the current. She folds her wings to dive–sleek, black, and small. But the creek is empty today and terribly low.

The world’s splendor whirls and chirps about me but I shut my eyes.

In the house I unload tomato soup, apples, and milk, forgetting to give thanks. I set the last roll of paper towel on the laundry shelf. In that motion God brings a shaft of light into my darkness. But I don’t see it that way at the time.

At the time I see the shelf support break, the board tilt, the contents slide. I see paper towels, bathroom cleaner, and laundry spray bounce on the washer and hit the floor.

I don’t need this, I say, resentfully. Of course, I’m wrong. God knows exactly what I need. None of the bottles have spilled, I think, so I leave the mess for later.

In the laundry room, a slick puddle pools on linoleum. When my Cookie takes off his boots for dinner, he remarks on the stench that crept in so slowly, I hadn’t noticed.

Do not dwell on the past. Behold–I am doing a new thing (Is. 43:18-19).

I discover a leaking bottle of pine cleaner behind the dryer. In a room too small to move the appliance, I wonder how in the world I will clean under it.

Water.

I pour glasses of it on the slanted floor. It dilutes the pungent oil streaming down. I pour and sop with the paper towels I just bought. I listen to the soft voice of God Who sent His Son to pay for my mistakes, to sop away the stench when it creeps into my soul.

Water is the universal solvent. Given long enough, it can dissolve stone.

In Me, you are already clean. You need only to wash your feet (John 13:10).

I dip the feet of my heart in God’s today forgiveness through Jesus. I bow in thanks for …whatever is true, whatever is good, whatever is lovely…(Philippians 4:8) to God who redeemed both my relationship with Mom and our marriage–by fire first, then by water.

True, good, lovely…OldCompBackup 3501

My mom walked the long grasses of our sheep pastures with her grandchildren, happy, her hands brushing the lacy tops going to seed for the next generation, for new life. She said she loved me.

True, good, lovely…

My non-farmer husband wrestled sheep, llamas, pigs, along with tons of hay, and fenced the healing spaces of pasture on the farm he bought for me.

True, good, lovely…

He prayed beside me as I slid the loose skin of my dad’s hand back and forth over the too-large knuckles, over the bones of his departing soul. After, on a healing expanse of beach, Tim watched me sieve sand through my fingers again and again, loving me in the wait.April 2015 093

I nod to myself and resolve to walk the field with new eyes and a washed heart, to smile at my husband putting a window in a shed.

I brush the grasses and daisies with my hands and breathe in sunshine. I realize the fields and creeks have always drawn me, not from fear, but because here I see God’s hand and feel His presence. I find hope in the breezes, the quiet, and the splendor of His creation.

He makes healing spaces even in the mess.

Where are your healing spaces? Where do you find hope? Where do you wash your feet?

The living creek rushes over rocks, melting the roughest edges first. Nothing can stand against it. The water ouzel dives deep, seeking caddis fly larvae or minnows. She stays under a long time, rises, and dives anew.

June 2015 007Do you see her? Do you hear God’s quiet voice in your mess?

I fold my wings and wash in the healing spaces of His grace; I dive fearlessly in the wide expanse of His love. Like the water ouzel, I rise full.

Step in with me, dear one. It’s a big creek.