Changing Seasons

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Today a flock of geese congregates on the pond. They honk their nasal greeting at some stragglers flying overhead. The pair in flight lowers their flaps and puts down their landing gear. They bank and glide, catching the wind at just the right angle to slow their approach. Their feet hit the watery runway. They ski into the flock, pulling in their flaps as they come to a complete stop. The noisy greetings fade.

A few short weeks ago, the honking would have drowned out many other bird voices. Today, for the first time this season, I notice a conspicuous silence. I look, and listen, and realize the smaller migratory birds have already flown the coop. There are no bluebirds on the power lines. There are no red-winged blackbirds on the cattails.  There are no swallows under the barn eaves. There are no robins pulling worms from the lawn. There are no wrens or catbirds or orioles. They flocked up and moved south when I wasn’t looking.

What built-in instinct triggers their migration still mystifies me. If they left at the same time each year, it might be a little easier to understand. But they don’t. Somehow God has wired them to sense the soon-ness of winter. An urgency compels them to return to warm, fertile places before the food supply dies out, the lakes freeze over, and the leaves fall off. Unlike those gregarious geese, the smaller birds slip quietly away, without pomp or ceremony. They will return in spring much the same way, leaving the official announcement to their clamoring Canadian cousins.

When sin ushers winter into my wicked heart, I should take a lesson from the birds. Too often I’m tempted to linger in a sinful season. After all, things aren’t really that bad… yet!  Unfortunately, it isn’t long before I find myself in a desperate situation. Spiritual hunger and thirst set in. I grow colder and the ugliness of my heart is exposed. An urgency compels me to repent and return to a warm and spiritually fertile place near the heart of God, to honor Him as Lord. I do not want God to say of me, “Even the stork in the sky knows her season; and the turtledove, and the swift, and the thrush observe the time of their migration; but My people do not know the ordinance of the Lord.”  (Jeremiah 8:7)

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Today I hunt for wild grapes. The vines are everywhere, climbing fences and trees and boulders along the wild country roads. Many of the vines are bare. But some have clusters of tiny purple grapes, miniatures of their cultivated cousins. A couple of light frosts have made them as sweet as they’re going to get… which is not very sweet. They’re far too tart to eat plain. But they make excellent jelly. I fill several ice cream pails and head home.

First, I wash the little purple pearls and pull them off the stems. Next, I mush them with my fingers, working the flesh from the seed (yes, seed… they’re so little there’s only one seed per grape). My hands will be stained purple for days! Then I put my mushy grapes in some water and boil them until they’re juicy. Next, the mush goes through a strainer to separate skins and seeds from juice. Finally, I make the pure juice into a mildly sweet jelly.

It’s a messy, painstaking process, to be sure. Most people wouldn’t bother with it. I freely admit it’s a whole lot quicker, easier, and cheaper to buy grape jelly at the local Piggly Wiggly. For me, though, this is time, money and energy well-spent. I find satisfaction in transforming a bunch of sour grapes into a sweet-tasting treat.

Hallelujah, God has the patience to take on the messy, painstaking process of transforming the sour, wild fruit of my flesh into the sweet-tasting fruit of the Spirit. He gathers up all the wild grapes embittered by sin. He crushes them and purifies them with fire. He carefully culls out and discards all the garbage. He infuses any potential good that remains with His sweet, sweet Spirit…leaving me with an offering fit to bring my King.

I don’t much like being broken and crushed and put in the fire and sifted. But the end result makes the process worthwhile. I want Christ to be evident in my life, not my sin-contorted heart. The only way to be changed from unholy to holy is the initial acceptance of God’s great salvation followed by a lifetime of sanctification. So, I allow God to do what He must to replace the fruit of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit.

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:19-24)

Special Edition: Traveling Together

Today I watch spent leaves fall and flit away on the breeze. No longer anchored to their respective trees, they whirl wistfully below a steel blue sky threatening to pour out its soggy contents. Eventually they land. Chances are, however, they haven’t found their final resting places yet. Unless their footing is firm, they’ll tumble along with passing winds until a strong rain pins them down.

As I walk along, enjoying the leaf shower, God brings Ephesians 4:14-15 to mind. Paul is explaining that Christ equips His followers so we corporately bring glory to God and spur one another on to maturity when we exercise our spiritual gifts. Then he says, “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ”

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Is it Worship?

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Today baby blue sky melds with steel blue water on a hazy horizon. Sometimes the lake looks angry with a gray canopy suspended low over crashing whitecaps. But today a cluster of cotton-ball clouds slowly crosses the seemingly endless expanse of Lake Superior. Gentle waves tumble water-worn stones over sandy shoreline with rhythmic precision. I sit and listen to the soothing sound of rocks rolling like a gentle rain. The scent of fish-infused water mingles with the earthy smell of sun-soaked sand. Seagulls scream as they drift past and sandpipers scamper along water’s edge, darting in and out to the beat of the waves.

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Autumn’s Aroma

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Today the temperature says summer but the aroma says autumn.  Though it’s unseasonably warm, the air is fall-scent infused. I soak in the sweet, musty smell of fading flowers mingled with sun-drenched leaves and pine windfall baking in the hot sun. It’s the smell that takes me back to jumping in leaf piles and making playhouses from fall’s litter.

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Redeeming Time

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Today I have a couple of hours to kill while the kids are busy at church. I head for one of my favorite haunts I discovered in college, a series of little pull-off picnic areas along the river. It’s not exactly a well-kept secret. Most of the locals know about it. But it has remained a quiet place where life, like the river, flows at a more peaceful pace.

I throw my blanket on the bedrock outcropping at river’s edge. The ancient pink granite, marbled with white quartz veins, is wrinkled and worn, its face wearing splotchy patches of green and gray fungus. Where rock merges with water, ripples and swirls dance silently along an eddy line. Water bugs drift downstream, then suddenly dart back up. They have one goal: not to become food for the fish that frequently surface in search of a snack. At moments like this, I’m reminded how good it is to be at the top of the food chain!

Of course, being at the top of the food chain carries with it some heavy responsibilities. We’re created in God’s image. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;”(Genesis 1:26a) We each have a soul, a will, a conscience, and a creative intellect unknown to the animal kingdom. We’re not merely highly evolved mammals, driven by instincts and urges.

In Ephesians 5: 15-16, Paul reminds us to “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time because the days are evil.” Unlike the rest of earthbound creation, we’re accountable to God for our choices. That means we should be deliberate about how we use our time and resources, right?

Lately, that’s a real challenge for me. It feels like life is passing me by. I can’t seem to find time for the things I feel compelled to do because I’m preoccupied with the things I must do. When I have free time, usually at the end of the day when everyone else is in bed, I’m too tired to tackle much more than a movie and some embroidery. I wonder what I’m accomplishing that’s of eternal value. Friends tell me caring for my family is my current calling. I know that’s vital. I don’t want to minimize my role as wife and mother in any way. But somehow it doesn’t feel like enough.

The river flows onward like the march of time. This water, which holds me spellbound, has just begun its long journey to its union with the Mississippi River, then journey’s end at the Gulf of Mexico where it will be lost in oceanic vastness. It will never pass this way again. My days are dancing swiftly, steadily, silently by, carried along on the current of time. The wasted days can never be reclaimed. The missed opportunities may never come again. There are no “do over’s” in life. Each tick of the clock brings me closer to eternity.

The thought compels me to pray, “Lord, am I being obedient? Am I doing what You’ve called me to do? If my current task is solely being devoted to my family, then give me peace. If not, show me what I’m missing and empower me to do it.”

There is no immediate peace, no immediate answer. One question lingers, as food for thought from the Heavenly Father. When I leave this earth, will I leave any mark behind to commemorate my existence? Or will I, fly away and soon be forgotten.

               Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away;

              They fly, forgotten, as a dream Dies at the opening day.

              (lyrics from Our God, Our Help in Ages Past, by Isaac Watts)

Sin’s Snare

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Today I find a grass snake sunbathing on a pink granite boulder. We startle each other and he slithers off (before I can get a picture), probably sulking. He did have the perfect spot to soak up the sun. But I can’t say I’m sorry to see him go. There’s something unsettling about the silent stealth of a snake. Its scaly body, piercing eyes, and forked, flicking tongue don’t help either. 

The only living things I dislike more are spiders. They give me the willies! All those legs and eyes and those larger-than-life pinchers… YUCK! The other day one was crawling on me… not on my clothes… on me! I could feel its hairy feet scampering cross my skin. My kids laughed when I did a wild highland jig trying to get the creepy thing off me.

My aversion to arachnids began at a young age. Bulging-bodied grain spiders hung from every nook and cranny in Grandpa’s barn. I kept a watchful eye on them when I helped put up hay, fearing one might attack me when I wasn’t looking. That never happened. The wolf spiders never attacked while I was playing in the water either, nor did the marbled orb weavers jump at me while I harvested wildflower seeds. But I know the sneaky little spiders in our house sometimes attack me at night. They leave clusters of itchy bites.

Exactly why spiders and snakes strike such fear in my heart, I’m not certain. But I find it interesting that both are used in Isaiah 59: 4-5, to describe the deception and lies running rampant in Judah. “No one sues righteously and no one pleads honestly. They trust in confusion and speak lies; They conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity. They hatch adders’ eggs and weave the spider’s web; he who eats of their eggs dies,and from that which is crushed a snake breaks forth.” 

Isaiah first compares the lies and wickedness of the people to snake eggs. The eggs that were eaten killed. The eggs that were crushed hatched even more evil. Then Isaiah compares the wickedness in which people were being ensnared to a well-woven spider’s web. What great word pictures! Can’t you just see a nest of snakey babies writhing in a tangled mass, each trying to escape but caught up in the mess? Or an insect vainly struggling to escape the sticky grip of a spider’s web? Perhaps this is the foundation for the old adage, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”

There’s nothing inherently evil about spiders or snakes. God created them with care. Their subversive ways, however, are a reminder to us to avoid sin’s entrapment; to keep a watchful eye out for webs of deception that could entangle us, and to be wary of snake-like snares.

God’s Gifts: Above and Beyond

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Today I consider color. I look outside and see green trees. But all the trees are not the same green. They range in intensity from deep, almost-black green hemlocks to pale, almost-yellow green birches. Today white plume-like clouds reach across an intense blue sky. But sometimes the sky is pale blue with a splattering of gray clouds, or blue with a hint of sunrise or sunset. To say the sky is blue doesn’t quite cover it.

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