Taking a closer look at God's gifts...

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Wild Rose of Summer

It's summertime in Alaska, and while that's true of most of the northern hemisphere, up here summer is a great ...big ... deal. At least it is to me.

 A wild Alaska rose blooms alongside a river as a beautiful
example of God's provision.
Alaska's winters come early and stay late. The aftermath of all that snow is not a pretty sight, as it melts in big piles of slushy mush and dirt. They don't use salt up here to get rid of snow; instead they use sand or another sand-like substance. It's probably better on our car bodies, but it wreaks havoc with the roads when it's no longer needed. Once the snow is gone, the trash is visible, and once that's gone, we're left with great gobs of dirt on the roads and sidewalks. Eventually, crews are able to clean the streets and roads, but not before the wind picks it up and dust devils run amok.

But once all that winter detritus is gone, the greenery of springtime and the beauty of Alaska's flowering trees and bushes reign supreme. Yes, the season is short, but it's also magnificent. Seeing the glories of God's creation, even for the short time they're available to us, is at once humbling and joyous. He didn't have to give us the variety of flowers, birds, butterflies, trees, plants, and every other conceivable facet of nature He provided for our pleasure and nourishment, but He did. Walk deep into the woods and you'll find wildflowers that perhaps one person will see before it dies, but He placed it there for someone's (and He knew who it would be) pleasure. Nature is a constant reminder of our Father's loving kindness and utterly phenomenal, unmatched creativity.

Just as He created the universe and all its mysteries for our enjoyment and exploration, He also provided the tiniest of pleasures for those who are willing to take the time to look around. Beauty surrounds us at every turn. It's up to us to find it (just open our eyes), appreciate it (breathe a prayer of thanksgiving), and acknowledge that He did all this for us (tell the world). It's that simple.

See you along the trail...

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Are You a Rock or a Gem?

At first glance, this picture looks blurry, a bit fractured,  maybe even confusing. But it drew me in like a piece of pecan pie when I saw it. I like taking this kind of photo because I can use them to demonstrate things I think God is trying to tell me. 

This is a picture of the creek bed at the Discovery Center nature trail at Murfree Spring, Murfreesboro, Tennessee—not that this particular location is unique to scenes of this kind. All around our planet, large and small bodies of water hide treasures beneath their surfaces. Sometimes depth conceals what’s down there. Other times it might be sand or the murkiness of troubled waters riled up by high winds, choppy waves, and swift currents. Nevertheless, at the bottom of all bodies of water, no matter how deep, shallow, murky, or clear, lies treasure. 

But even this scene would look unremarkable and drab without the play of the sunshine tiptoeing across the water. Ordinary river rocks which, for the most part,` are flat in color and nondescript, take on nuances of intricately-detailed, exquisite gems. Colors explode, and ripples on the water alter their hues and brightness, reflecting the glimmering rays of the sun in ways that man will never duplicate. 

Are we any different than the lowly pebbles in this stream? No. We too can be dull-looking, sharp with our family, colleagues, and friends, and certainly not sparkling like gems. But when we belong to Jesus, we help to manifest His glory and be seen by others as He would have them see us—reflecting His glory and His power. As with everything else, we’re more beautiful, serene, faceted, reflective, and ever-changing as we bask in the glory of the Son.

See you along the trail. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Consolation Prize!

Skies over Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on blood moon night.
On the evening of September 28th, while the world awaited the appearance of the much-anticipated blood moon and total eclipse, I waited expectantly for a miracle that would part those clouds long enough for me to view it along with so many other millions of people.

Alas, it didn't happen. But what did occur was this colorful and dramatic sunset over Murfreesboro, Tennessee. So often when God doesn't give me something I want, I mourn its loss (as if I had it to lose in the first place), failing to understand that what He does give me is sometimes just as spectacular. And this consolation prize was just that--spectactular. Thank You, God!

While there were many pictures taken of the blood moon and eclipse and posted for the world to see, I don't suppose there were many photos of the skies over Murfreesboro that night. It occurred to me that maybe I should share my consolation prize with the rest of the world!

As I stood in the middle of the road in front of our house looking upward at the gloriously-tinted sky, I half-expected to see Christ riding upon those clouds. Now wouldn't THAT have been something?

See you along the trail...

Sunday, July 12, 2015

To Soothe Your Soul

This beautiful, dew-laden leaf was waiting for me one sunny
morning just outside my cottage door, still fresh from its
 morning shower and not yet toweled off or wearing the drier 
face it would wear for the rest of the day. Sometimes seeing 
something at a time of day  different from the times we usually 
see them can bring glorious surprises and yes, beautiful photos. 
One year ago this week, I was deep in my giddy preparations for a trip to Maine to attend the Golden Apple Art Residency for two glorious weeks. While my primary purpose for being there (and the hat I wore most often) was as a writer, I also took time out from writing my latest book to share hundreds--and I'm talking about 1400--photos of the Residency grounds, in particular, and surrounding parts of Maine, in general.

Wow ... what a beautiful place. Maine is known for its beautiful piney woods, gorgeous shoreline, fishing, lobstering, crabbing, hard winters, blueberries, L.L. Bean, and rocks, rocks, and more rocks. I brought all the rocks home I could transport without being accused of stealing Maine right out from under its residents, and because I flew, I couldn't carry with me the 40 or so pounds of rocks I'd gathered. So I did the next best thing--I mailed them. Using the Post Office's all-you-can-fit-in-a-box-for-one-cost offering, I mailed those beauties home to me and believe me, I had a ball when my box of rocks came a few days later. (I'm not sure the mailman was all that thrilled with me, but hopefully, he/she will never know my face.)

While there, however, I was also transfixed with the beauty of Maine--and indeed of our planet in general. Because Golden Apple is situated on nine wooded acres of Atlantic Ocean coastline, the array of plants, trees, and yes, rocks is stunning, not to mention the water or what goes on out there. I couldn't turn around without finding something growing in the most unusual places (pine trees springing from solid rock, for instance), mushrooms sprouting from trees or piles of firewood, both wild and beautifully cultivated flowers around the property, and seashells. Not to be outdone by the plant life, the animal kingdom put in its two cents' worth with bald eagles soaring, seals honking in the evening hours, squirrels, beavers, even an otter, and the footprints of a moose who managed to stay hidden and away from my camera lens. (I'll get you next time, Bullwinkle.)

I guess what this all leads to is that some of the most beautiful, miraculous, and unusual sights of nature can be found almost anywhere if you look. And sometimes finding them is as simple as walking out your front door and looking down for a few moments before you start your day. As time goes on, you might want to look down a bit more often, finding even more beauty to astound you and soothe your soul. It won't be long before you find yourself looking for nature's beauty automatically.

And it's all free for the discovery in this glorious creation of our Heavenly Father's that we lucky humans call home.

See you along the trail...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

To Love a Weed

I don't have purple hair, nor do I style it the way this pretty little thistle head
has, but if I did, this is what I'd like to look like. And yes, I know that's weird.
We're living in a new house which we love, but it's at the end of a road in a rather new sub-division which is still undergoing aggressive construction. We're the last house on the road at the moment, so the land past our house (to the left as you're looking at the house) and behind it is vacant. I like to tell people we live on the edge of a nature preserve because the rabbits, geese, and who-knows-what-else make their homes there, but in truth, it's just vacant land piled high with dirt, chunks of trees, and other rubble the construction equipment has shoved aside to clean up another day.
The little beauty above is a thistle weed and it's growing on the piles of dirt and rock surrounding our house. I can't get to it without risking life and limb (thank goodness for zoom lenses), but if I could, I'd gather a few for a colorful bouquet. 
It's amazing to me how something as lowly as a common weed can be so beautiful, yet have such little value when compared to the more acceptable flowers we slave over (and pay good money for) in our gardens. If God had never given us anything but the "no maintenance, grow anywhere" weeds to satisfy our desire to beautify our surroundings, we would be hard-pressed to complain. Take a few thistle heads, some Queen Anne's lace, dandelions, and the wild variations of asters, daisies, and a host of other flowering "weeds," and you've got a luscious, colorful bouquet of God's love for us displayed in even His most modest of creations. 
I wonder how often we overlook an individual because they seem common. If God can love the weeds on this earth, how much more does He love all of His children--young, old, pretty, homely, rich, poor, in good health or bad, black, white, brown, red, yellow, pink, or orange--who cares?
He cares. For all of us. For the hybrids, the old standards, the lush, the wild, the rare, the plentiful, the run-of-the-mill, the powerful, and the weak. Which one are you? 
See you along the trail...                                                                                                                     

Monday, May 18, 2015

It's all in how you look at it...

There are days I feel insignificant and without any real worth. Yes, I can still draw breath and I suppose if I can do that much, I can do more--like walk and talk and eat and work and play. Still, even though I'm blessed to be able to do all that, I feel afloat, disinterested, pitiful, and not anchored to any person or any purpose. I'm adrift, alone and without purpose.

Or do I just think I am?

On a walk down the nature trail at the Discovery Center at Murfree Spring in Murfreesboro, Tennesse, I noticed this little guy swimming his teensy-weensy turtle heart out in the mud and muck of a pollen-encrusted pond. He couldn't have been two inches long from the tip of his nose to the end of his pointy little tail.

This little guy loves his life and makes the most of it despite
his less than ideal surroundings. Too bad I can't say the same about
myself some of the time. Lord, forgive me. 
Now there, I thought to myself, is someone who truly is insignificant. I stopped to watch him for a while and noticed something strange. He didn't act insignificant. Even though he puddled around in murky water laden with twigs, dead leaves, and other detritus of winter past and early spring, he acted as though he owned the place. He swam with purpose (at least to my eyes), and did his best (or her best--hard to tell) to climb rocks or logs that got in his way. If he couldn't do it on the first attempt, he tried until he made it. I detected no whining, no complaining, and no self-pity. (Of course, I'm not familiar with what whining, complaining or self-pity looks like in a turtle, but I'm going to give this little guy the benefit of the doubt.) Despite his size and, I suppose, relative youth, he made the most of what his life consisted of--greenish water, obstacles he had to climb over or scramble up to enjoy, a hard shell on his back, and scrawny little legs. Not much to work with to make a wonderful life, is it?

To us, I suppose it wouldn't be. But to him, it's the life he's been given and he seems to be very content with it. I wondered if he ever dreamed of a clear pond, a ramp up to his sunning perch, food that wasn't waterlogged or from the insect world. Maybe, but somehow I doubt it. I think he accepted what he had and enjoyed it to the best of his ability.

I think I should do that more often. I've been given far, far more than so many people on this earth. I live in the best country the world has ever known where I'm free to worship my God without worrying about being ambushed, beheaded, or otherwise persecuted. I have plenty of food and fresh water, a clean and safe home, decent clothes, transportation, good medical care, a loving extended family, the sun in the daytime, and the moon and stars at night.

I might feel alone, but that's because I allow myself to feel that way. Next time I do, I'm going to think about this little turtle and be glad I don't live in a pollen-, bug-, leaf-filled pond of green water with worms for dinner.

See you along the trail...

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Above and Below

Among the many things that remind me daily of the blessings given to us by our Heavenly Father are clouds--those beautiful, gossamer messengers of current or future weather, ever-changing sky paintings on the massive canvas that stretches above us.

As a child, I remember lying on my back in the cool grass and watching the clouds move across the sky. They fascinated me, whether they were puffy cumulus clouds that resembled mounds of whipped cream or wispy cirrus clouds that looked as though God put His finger on them and smeared them across the blue sky. There are other forms, of course, but the ones I learned about at school stuck with me.

It seems, looking back on it, that I spent hours gazing upward, but in reality I was probably just resting from a game of tag or recovering from a tackle during a particularly physical cowboy shoot-out. (We had toy cowboy pistols and holsters back then. We pretend-shot one another and pretend-died when we played the bad guy. As a result of those shoot-outs during my impressionable childhood years, I can truthfully report I have never once shot another human being in real life, and I never once died from a pretend bullet. Too bad we can't say the same about guns today.) Back to clouds.

There also were threatening formations, of course. When they turned dark and rolled in from the west with the thunder growling louder and louder and the lightning slashing the sky like brilliant talons, we took notice. It seems we were more in tune with the weather back then because we were out in it. Instead of relying on the Weather Channel to tell me bad weather was on its way or waiting for an alert from my smart phone, we gauged the next few hours by the look of the sky, the movement and type of clouds, and the temperatures and humidity. If a breeze picked up and the clouds were dark, we knew we'd soon have to head indoors. If our mom told us to open or close the windows (depending on whether we were "equalizing pressure in the house" or holding back the driving rain), we knew it was more serious than a light sprinkle. When she told us to head for the basement, our pulses quickened. I remember on more than one occasion feeling fear and a weird exhilaration at the power of the storm approaching us. To this day, I have a healthy respect for storms.

As exciting as the storms that came from dark, threatening clouds could be, my favorites were the huge balls of cotton that traversed the sky and magically changed form as they drifted past--teddy bears into mittens into dogs into hearts into kittens into elephants. On and on they'd glide melding from one shape to another until they floated out of sight and on to the far horizon. Even though I'm sure I spent far less time than I recall watching the clouds, the experiences stuck with me. I remember the smell of grass and earth, the tickle of a tiny bug walking across my arm or the buzz of a honey bee, the warmth of the sun on my skin, and the pleasure of a fleeting breeze that cooled the sweat of my brow.

Each of those sensory delights was a blessing sent by God. We need only examine a slim blade of grass at our feet or view the ever-changing panorama above our heads to discover just one of our Lord's many gifts to us day after day after day.

See you along the trail...