Gentle Rains

Another day of gentle rains! I want to publicly thank God for these wonderful rains, because I’ve been praying for them!

In the process of building an addition, our yard became a muddy mess! Alan carefully sowed grass seed everywhere, but every time we turned our backs, the geese would come and gobble up the profits! One of my daily tasks has become chasing the geese away so the grass has a chance to grow. (And then, I have to scatter more seed after they leave.) I feel like Disney’s little cocker spaniel, Lady!

A Tangle of Wild Grapes and Highbush Cranberry Blossoms

Our yard covers more than an acre, and to water the lawn with a hose and sprinkler would take more time, energy, and hose-length than we possess, so I’ve been asking the Lord to bless us with gentle rains to help the grass seed sprout and take root before it all gets washed away or eaten up.

Gray Dogwood, Cornus racemosa, growing wild along our Michigan woodland lane

God has been answering my prayers! We have had one of the most wonderfully cool springs I can ever remember, with the perfect blend of sunshine and soft showers!

The grass has taken root, and we’ve become hopeful that—short of a disastrous drought—the grass may flourish. Perhaps by next summer we will have enough soft grass to support both the grazing of geese and the romping of grand children!

Wild turkeys grazing in the meadow

Well, and enough for the wild turkeys too . . .

Doe and her young fawn grazing with the geese in our yard

And the deer, especially now that the herd
has a number of new fawns to feed!

Mock orange on a rainy morning

Working hard to plant and protect the grass, and praying for rain and sunshine—which only God can provide—reminds me of a greater task we’ve been given: that of sharing spiritual “seed” (the Word of God) with others. “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass” (Dueteronomy 32:2).

Fragrant wild roses perfuming the misty morning air

God has been merciful and kind to me, and he will provide for you too if you’ll surrender your heart and will to Jesus. He calls each of us with a quiet, gentle voice that can only be heard in our hearts. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

White-tailed fawn in our woods

Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great” (Psalm 18:35).

Magnify

Do you ever wake up on a rainy morning and say to yourself, “I just need to go for a walk!”?

Peony crowned with raindrops

Yesterday was one of those days for me, so I donned my raincoat, grabbed my trusty umbrella (to protect my camera), and took off to see what I could see!

Orange Bearded Iris in Rain

It was as I thought—absolutely beautiful!

Peony buds in the rain

The amazing beauty of springtime
is always exhilarating and glorious, isn’t it?!

Purple Bearded Iris

First I walked along the lane to check out the woods and swamp.

Wood ducks in a swamp

At first, I didn’t see anything of particular interest, but then I saw a movement in the distance. It wasn’t until I was able to zoom in with my camera that I got a clear picture: a pair of wood ducks resting on a log, trying to negotiate the rain. They kept shaking their wings, and I smiled, thinking about the saying that something is as insignificant as “water off a duck’s back.” Not if you’re a duck! They worked hard to shake all the rain off their feathers!

Montmoreceny cherries starting to ripen in rain

I’ve been meditating my way through the Book of Psalms in the mornings lately (and I most highly recommend Charles Spurgeon’s Treasury of David for eloquent insights on the these comforting scriptures)! We need a lot of life’s drenching rains to grow spiritually. Bless God for rain; without it we would all die!

Wild roses blooming on our lane

That morning, I was meditating on Psalm 34:3, “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.” I feel like just one little wild rose, but one blossom in the midst of a cluster of wild roses can still attract attention . . . and may any attention we attract always magnify our wondrous creator, who has “made everything beautiful in his time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)!

Water droplets falling off lily pad leaves

I thought about how much more we can see when something is magnified. Without my camera, and it’s wonderful capacity for magnifying life, I would have known it was raining, but I wouldn’t have been able to recognize the distant pair of wood ducks or seen the tiny droplets of water dripping off the edge of the lily pads. May those of us who know God be like magnifying lenses for those who don’t.

Honeysuckle

Although I could smell the heady sweetness of honeysuckle, without magnification, I couldn’t really appreciate how beautiful it is. As we meditate on God’s beauty and draw near to him, may we share that sweetness with those around us!

Elaeagnus angustifolia, commonly called Russian olive, silver berry, oleaster,
Persian olive or wild olive

We have lots of Russian olives in bloom along our lane, but how could I explain to you how joyous they look without magnification?

Highbush Cranberry blossoms

We can’t “magnify the Lord” in the sense of making him anything greater than he is, because he is the Creator who holds the universe in his hands! He is already higher than the heavens and deeper than the seas . . . crowned with beauty and glory!

Mock orange budding in the rain

But, as we draw near to him and begin to appreciate his beauty, we are filled with such awe that we want to share what we’ve experienced with others, just like I love sharing my experiences with you!

Daisy

With magnification, even the common experiences of life become uncommon . . . like the daily miracles we may fail to notice—the breathe of life, color, water . . .

Nightshade

Only through the magnification of God’s Word do we learn to understand that not everything which is beautiful to look is also safe to eat. Some things are really bejeweled poison! “The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable” (Isaiah 42:21).

Waterlily bud in the rain

Only with magnification can we see the tiny details, like the minuscule fly resting on the lily. (Can you see it?) “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour” (Ecclesiastes 10:1). Can you think of anywhere outside scripture where we are given so many insights about the “little” details of righteousness?

Tiny clover blossoms and a tiny slug

I realized that magnification makes me aware of the fragility of life. How easily I might have stepped on these delicate clovers growing in the middle of the road! Even more surprising, there was a miniature slug sitting in the middle of one of them, which I really did not see until I studied the photo later! Whom might we harm because they’re in the middle of our road?? Ever read the children’s book, Horton Hears a Who?

Robin Hood Roses in rain, out of focus!

Finally, I realized that the most powerful camera in the world (which I certainly don’t own . . . but for the sake of argument), with the best magnification potential in the world, would be absolutely useless if it isn’t focused properly! If we don’t learn how to use the Bible (the world’s most powerful tool for revealing and magnifying God) to focus others on the magnificence of God, we won’t have anything worth sharing with others! Instead, we’ll be much more likely to confuse or frustrate them.

Robin Hood Roses in the rain

I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.”
(Psalm 69:30)

Daffodil Melodies

Are you longing for warmer weather? In the “North Country” (of Michigan, where I live), it seems impossible to keep from longing for spring, but once the flowers begin to bloom, I really hope for a looong season of cool weather to maximize the beauty of spring’s magnificent flowing robes of color. We named our home Tanglewood Cottage, but if it had a second appellation, I’d be tempted to call it Daffodil Cottage! 🙂 Since the deer and various rodents have devoured the leaves and bulbs of almost all our flowers except daffodils (which contain the toxins lycorine and calcium oxalate crystals), over the past 25 years, I’ve planted so many daffodils, and they’ve multiplied so well, that sometimes over 1,000 yellow blossoms edge our woods.

The Music of the Daffodils

Springtime’s chorus line
Dressed in frilly, golden gowns,
Trumpeting God’s grace.
Quite the Eye Candy!

Sunshine daffodils,
Who even notices our
Rusty propane tank?

Natural beauty always inspires me, and I love how something bright and beautiful can draw our eyes to focus so much on what is lovely that what is ugly recedes from our view and thoughts. Our old propane tank suffers from rust and mold, which is particularly unsightly during late fall and early spring, when there is neither snow nor shrubbery to conceal it. However, when the daffodils begin to bloom, it ceases to strike me as such an eye soar because I stop noticing it! Yes, I should probably scrub and paint it every year, but once the summer foliage fills out, I forget all about it again and tackle other projects instead.

I have some distinct similarities to my old propane tank. When I get a good look at myself in the mirror, I am especially distressed by all the “rust” of age and the speckles and spots on my face. I guess I should paint my face to conceal the aging better, but usually I look up at Jesus, notice His exquisite beauty, and forget all about my human imperfections. I don’t want to be like the careless person who looks in the mirror and then doesn’t do anything about her appearance, but I do find consolation in concentrating on the unfading beauty of our eternal God!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).


Willow, Weep for Me?

I will weep for you!
How is it that simple winds
Can break a huge tree?

Although weeping willows grow quickly to great heights and are often prized by romantics (like me) for their long, gracefully arching branches and lacey leaves, they are relatively short-lived (about 50 years). They have vast root systems that suck up huge amounts of water, and in the winter, the water can freeze, causing the branches to become rigid and brittle. So, despite their beauty and size, weeping willows are prone to ice damage, and even a stiff spring wind can cause a great fall, such as happened recently to one of the lovely willows along our lane.

In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul describes the healthy way for a church to grow. Have you noticed that some churches grow at amazingly rapid rates? They may be drinking in a lot of spiritual water (the Word, Ephesians 5:26) and even have sturdy root systems (rooted and grounded in love, Ephesians 3:17), but if they don’t recognize and utilize the full compliment of their church’s gifts (as given by God to each member), they are likely to become rigid and brittle over time (which happens in churches led by only one man) and very susceptible to “every wind of doctrine” that blows. The results can be devastating, just like weeping willow trees: Individual branches break off easily, and sometimes even huge limbs can come crashing down in a wind storm, not only killing a large part of the tree, but exposing the rest of the tree to disease and eventual death.

If you are a part of the leadership at your church, are you making sure to use all the spiritually gifted members of your congregation? Many minds and hearts working together will protect you from doctrinal error and strengthen your church family. If you are an inactive member of your congregation, do you know what your spiritual gift is? Will you offer to use your gift to help your church be healthy and grow stronger?

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16, ESV).

Spring Break

To escape the cold
Spring breakers went south to find
Stiff winds and sand drifts.

I sure hope that isn’t what happened to any of you dear people who’ve been on spring break recently, but that was our experience in March when we went to Florida for a medical meeting. It was “Bikers’ Week” and the highways were jammed with college kids and motorcyclists, but we had the beach to ourselves due to the icy winds and blowing sand.

In Michigan where I live, it actually snowed again last night! 😦 Try as we may, we don’t always get what we hope for! Thankfully, when we were at Daytona Beach in March, we had our winter coats, so we just bundled up and hiked the beach anyway. (That’s Alan in the distance, who can outrun me any day!)

Like the Whos down in Whoville who refused to let the Grinch steal Christmas, may we find joy in our imperfect lives rather than dismay in our unfulfilled expectations! As Robert Louis Stevenson put it: “Make the most of the best and the least of the worst.”

Rejoice evermore.
17 Pray without ceasing.
18 In every thing give thanks.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)


Lost and Found

We mourn our losses
But find sweet consolation
In joyous rebirth.

My brother Rob, who lives in California, sent ’round this beautiful photo to cheer the hearts of his sibs who live in more northern climes. It definitely consoled me with the thought that spring is on its way, and the drab, brown grasses splotched with fallen leaves outside my window will soon give way to new life! How glad I am that death gives way to life when the sun arises!

But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise
with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth . . .” (Malachi 4:2).

When the Lights Go Out

This past week many Michiganders (and others) endured yet another big power outage this winter. A friend who lives in the country had power out for 5 days straight and subsisted on canned food heated on a one-burner propane camp stove. He didn’t dare go anywhere because he had to keep stoking his fire so the pipes wouldn’t freeze. Area schools were closed—one system for 11 days straight!  Alan and I missed the first two rounds of blizzards and ice storms while on our Southern Caribbean cruise, but we experienced this last one in all its unglory! 😦  Living in the country on well water and a septic tank has its advantages (mostly good well water), but it’s distinkyly a disadvantage when there’s no electricity! We bundled up, hunkered down, and praised God for workplaces that had showers and were gracious about taking in refugees (like me) during the day. Since most of us can’t just fly down to the tropics to avoid cold weather, I asked several of my friends what they’d learned from their experiences and if they had tips to share about how to prepare for the likely event of another outage. One friend, Connie Sikma, wrote such a charming response that I want to share it:

                           “When the Lights Went Out in West Michigan. . .” When I think about the electricity going out, I get a tingle of excitement. I can actually try to live like Laura Ingalls Wilder. The videos won’t work, so we can read, have conversations, and even play games by lantern. It is all sounds so cozy and nostalgic.

The week of February 7 of 2019, I got to experience that reality. It will be long remembered by the people of West Michigan when over 150,000 people were without power. Some lost power for a few hours and others for several days.  For us—my husband, teenage son and myself—the three days were not so difficult because we are healthy, have city water, a wood stove, and an ample supply of wood. However, we discovered our limits and learned a few lessons.

When the power went out Thursday morning, it was just before breakfast. School and various other things had been cancelled because of the bad weather. Power outages were predicted because of the ice, but we knew we would keep warm because of our wood stove. We thought we were ready. Lots of wood. I had the lanterns, flashlights, batteries, and matches placed in a central, easy-to-find place. I had candles in the dark bathrooms ready to go. As I mentioned, we have a small wood stove in the walkout basement. We initially installed it as a romantic, “just-for-fun” alternative, but we have since come to treasure it as one of sweetest assets in our home! It warms the basement whenever our gas heater fails, lowers our gas bill, and provides us all with some therapeutic activity while we keep it going. When the power went out, it also became our cook stove.

I did not realize how a warm breakfast and coffee on a cold day adds to the ambiance. I did not take into account that one cannot cook eggs on an electric stove when the power is out, nor did I consider how my drip coffee maker might respond. It simply stood silent, empty and cold before me. This is when my husband’s incredible skills of resourcefulness kicked in. While I stood there immobilized by my caffeine-starved brain, he went to work with more cheer than was necessary. He became a surgeon ordering the tools he would need, while I ran up and down the stairs delivering them, meanwhile bemoaning the fact that it was going to take another hour to taste the coffee I needed.

He put a pot of water to boil on the top of the wood stove. We got out a Melita filter and ran the coffee through like the pour-over one gets in a fancy coffee shop. We did find out though: One still needs filtered water or the coffee tastes excessively salty.

As for the eggs, we just took our usual pan and fried a few eggs on the stove. It really worked and was fun. For dinner, we got some hamburgers to grill on the outdoor grill with coals from our wood stove.

The first day the power was out, I decided to run errands. The bank was open but would only dispense up to $50. My usual grocery store was closed, but I found another franchise that was open a few miles away. Many restaurants were closed and so was the library. I noticed a few gas stations were closed too. Our car still ran and a bookstore was open, so my son and I spent the second day there. That was fun, although the drive through the bad weather was scary. But, we had all day, and we got there and home safely. One night we took the cold ham I’d prepared for dinner over to my mother-in-law, who lives a half an hour away. We spent a little extra time with her, and she had power so that was a nice break for all of us. We didn’t stay overnight, though, because my husband was concerned about our pipes freezing if we didn’t keep the fire going at home.

The sun sets at six, and nights can get so long and dark. By the second night it was very cold. Our son slept downstairs to keep the fire going. We went upstairs, but I did not sleep very well even though I had layers on. By morning on the third day (after a sleepless night), the cold and dark were beginning to wear us down. We had used up the hot water in the water tank, so no hot showers. The scented candles were starting to get to be too much; the house was getting messy and needed a good vacuuming.  We went out to eat for breakfast but even that was not as comfortable as being in a warm house cooking over an electric stove. Everything took a little extra effort because it was not part of our routine.

It was a good experience. I learned that we should be a little more prepared. I went out and bought some unscented candles. I also got some cash from the bank and will save it for real emergencies – when it is not possible to get money.  I thought an extra lantern would be handy as well. I realized that my world got very small in survival mode. It was an effort to think of others. I hope that this experience will teach me to be more empathetic to those in need.

I was reminded not to take all my blessings for granted. We have so much in this country, with its strong infrastructure, but all the good things I enjoy are really gifts of God’s goodness. I see that much more of my discretionary time and energy could be used to serve Him, and I don’t want to become complacent in my comfort.  If I practice using my time, talent and treasure well in the good times, I hope that I can be more useful in the hard times. To be prepared in the full times enables us to be equipped to share with others in the lean times.

Connie’s story made me think of what Joseph did in Genesis: “And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt.47 And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by handfuls.48 And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities . . .53 And the seven years of plenteousness, that was in the land of Egypt, were ended.54 And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. (Genesis 41:47-48 and 53-54). May we prepare in good times so we can provide for ourselves and others in bad times!

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest” (Proverbs 6:6-8).

(P.S.—Some years ago, our family invested in a battery-started, propane fireplace because my husband is asthmatic and can’t handle wood smoke. It was a real lifesaver for us and kept our pipes from freezing.)