graybeard + this year’s fall color

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I shared a few posts back about damaging my camera and needing to replace it.  Well, I did!  It wasn’t a major upgrade at all, but the camera is a slightly newer model than what I had and I am still trying to figure things out on it.  It was so wonderful to be able to get out last weekend for a day trip to nearby Montreat, NC where my husband and I went to college, met and married.  These trails used to be our daily bread, our common language, and now we are so rarely in these woods!  It was ministry to us both.  It’s therapeutic to get away from home and our usual work for a bit, particularly to get outside together.  We hiked for a little ways, looking for a good spot in the river to stop and let the kids play.  I think our kids are pretty decent hikers considering their age; Philippa does well keeping up with the older two, though she can often tire out far sooner than the rest of us.  As much as we’d like to go farther, we have to be content with shorter hikes and more stops and curiosity.  After playing in the water for a bit the sun dropped below the mountains and the temperatures grew cooler quickly.  We headed back to the trailhead and the picnic area just below it for a cozy warm fire and dinner.  It was a treat for me to play around with my camera throughout the day, and I was thankful for the opportunity to capture a bit of this year’s fall color, and these simple sweet moments together with children who are growing lankier every time I turn around.  Fall, the turning of seasons again, and these days slipping by so quickly.

first day of fall

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Last Saturday was the first day of fall, my favorite season officially arriving at last.  I had hoped to make the day an autumnal celebration, but as is so often the case things went differently than planned.  Philippa wasn’t feeling well, I had only gotten a few hours of sleep, and Brandon was working so the thought of pulling much together was exhausting.  Still, I was thankful I had a few things ready beforehand so we could still make it special.  The children hung a leaf banner for me on the mantle and I pulled out little baby pumpkins for them to paint, which we’ve done for a few years now.  I had hoped to plant some flower bulbs around our property but couldn’t muster the energy.

For me, the coming of fall is much anticipated, bringing all its beautiful colors, crisp air, and coziness.  I don’t mind winter and the cold short days one bit, in fact I crave it, but I know many people dread the long season of cold and dark.  It will be my first time planting bulbs this year, and it struck me a bit poetic, planting for spring now just before winter.  Planning and anticipating the season that will come because of the work of the season I’m in now.  These flowers need to overwinter in the soil.

I had woken up that Saturday morning with so little sleep behind me and another long day ahead, and I was fighting discouragement.  When I’m in that place, I should know better than to give much credit to my thoughts, but I was feeling overwhelmed by all I’m trying to juggle lately, I was feeling discouraged about this blog space.  I feel like I have less and less time to write, which is why I primarily began blogging (a space to share everything God teaches me along the way, a place to pay attention to His presence in my ordinary days).  I feel like my purpose in blogging gets muddled, and who really reads along anyway?  For so much work and effort squeezed into such little pockets of time, is it really worthwhile?  There is so much on the table, and so little I can feasibly give myself to.  Yet that very morning, God sent along some particular encouragement to keep going even if I can’t see where it is all headed.

You see, we do important work in our winters.  There are some things in us that simply MUST overwinter before the fruit is born.  We can’t rush the story.  We can’t see now where our faithfulness in this present season will take us.  We need to stop worrying about our destinations so much, and instead trust the process that will lead us there.  Be faithful here, plan for spring, hope for blooms, but carry on into winter.

This past Saturday was a much better day.  With the children, I planted a couple varieties of tulips, allium, and daffodils, along with some clematis plants a friend had given to us.  We will be eager to see them in spring, and will think often of those little bulbs all snug in the frozen soil throughout the winter.

“Gardens are born in winter.  Not only in fireside dreams, but also in the messy work of tending small pots on sunny windowsills.  And in the harsh work of planting early seeds in cold soil…

I long to see the glory of God in this place, to taste it even, but for everything there is a season.  These are still planting days.  These are the early days of small beginnings.  Days to sow, quite often in tears, hoping, believing, that we may one day reap in joy.”

-Christie Purifoy

Also, the maple pumpkin custard I made for dessert to celebrate the autumn equinox recipe was found here and it was easy and a big hit with everyone!

beginnings + endings

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It’s the shoulder-season time of year, things beginning and ending.  Schools nearing their finish, spring bursting into summer.  Pools are opening, farmers markets are filling with first fruits.

Phoebe had her ballet recital a few days ago and did so well!  We were so proud of all her hard work and focus, and truly amazed at how much she has learned this year.  I don’t know that we can afford to keep her in classes going forward, but it was a joy to see her complete a semester.  She was way too grown up in her makeup (gag, though–sort of hate seeing kids in makeup.  Luckily she hated it too and couldn’t wait to get it off) and she was enamored watching the rest of her dance company do their performances.  So fun to watch her.

We gave Phoebe a violin for her birthday in December but had to pack it up rather quickly since we were moving shortly thereafter and I had no idea how to tune it, so she hadn’t really been allowed to try it out.  I felt a bit like a horrible mom for giving her a gift and then basically putting it away for months.. so we found a little local music store and went this week to get it tuned and learn a bit how to hold it.  I’d like to start her in some lessons soon.  She is eager to learn and has been pulling it out and playing often now that she’s allowed.  I want our home to be filled with music, even though the beginning process of learning and instrument feels a bit painful.  I know older moms whose kiddos play and sing together (even my own siblings and I) and the sacrifice in the beginning (of more noise) is so worthwhile in the end!

I do some photography on the side (very little! very amateur!) for my dad and husband’s remodeling business, taking “after” pictures of their work for their website.  I was out at a client’s home in Fairview and stopped by a little self-serve farm stand nearby to pick up fresh flowers and fresh strawberries.  These berries are the best.  Everything from that farm stand is impeccable, and I’m rarely out that way so I stop there whenever I am.  Anyway, I knew we had to make a strawberry pie with those berries, and fresh homemade vanilla ice cream.  So Phoebe and I got to work on that in the afternoon, after wrapping up some school work while the other two were sleeping.  It’s fun to bake with her but also messy and sometimes I’m not up for the extra work.  Our pie was pretty good, but not quite what I was imagining.  Anyone have a good strawberry pie recipe (gluten free/paleo)?  Brandon loved it, though.

We’ve had a lot of rain this past week and the last couple of days have finally been dry and warm and sunny, so we checked on our little green growing things.  Our garden is a bed of hope for me, a reminder of so many precious truths: seeds will produce fruit, hope begins in the dark soil but eventually bursts into reality.  Great bounty comes from small endeavors in faithfulness.  We grow whatever we feed + nurture. Weeds come easy and choke out the good plants, while the good plants take more effort to grow.  Putting hands in soil, watering daily, watching and waiting–it somehow teaches me on a deeper level than just reading about seeds and soil.  Physically toiling in it preaches.  It reminds me of Jesus’ giving us the gift of the Lord’s supper: bread and wine.  Physical elements that we are meant to regularly handle, touch, taste, see, smell.  It preaches the Gospel to us in a different way, a physical way.  Every time I take the Lord’s supper, the experience of it itself preaches, brings new understanding, new enjoyment of God, deeper worship of Him.  We are busy growing things aren’t we–all these beginnings and endings, these little indicators that seasons are passing, time is moving, children are growing right before our eyes.  Time is slipping away, pushing forward whether we are ready for it or not.  We can’t hold a single day down.  We can see it and receive it and enjoy it and then it slips right out of our hands, making room for the next day, the next beginning.

I’ve been reading in Ecclesiastes for the past couple of weeks as I study through the Old Testament (using Nancy Guthrie’s Seeing Jesus in the OT series, which I highly recommend!) Anyway, I’ve been reading about toil and meaninglessness and vanity and living for the moment.  It’s been a bit depressing for me at times, because in some ways I find my cynical self agreeing with the hopelessness of the author at times.  Does any of this matter?  All this toil that seems to produce so little?  Yet we have a hope that the author didn’t yet have, the hope we find in Christ who reversed the curse when He rose from the dead and who gives value to all of our work, telling us that whatever we do for the least of these in His name will last.  It’s a mystery to me still, but yet I plod onward–learning to do small things with care and love and with eyes fixed on Jesus, finding Him and worshiping Him in all the little beginnings and endings.  It’s part of why I blog here–to see the ordinary, holy moments in my days, to mark the passing of time, to savor the things that I so easily miss, to look and hunt for beauty in the bread and in the wine.  To see that He gives everything, and everything I have is somehow a gift from Him, even the hard things.  All is grace.  He withholds no good thing from us.

Rhythms

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In our photo-saturated day, taking pictures can get a bad rap.  “Be present,” they urge.  “Put down your camera and enjoy this moment.”  And there are times to leave the camera behind.  Times to rest and just soak and to see.  But I have learned that for me, snapping pictures helps me see.  Helps me notice.  Like a glory-hunter, seeking the beauty in the dreary and ordinary.  Going out with my camera, with expectation to find gifts.  I learned this some time ago from Ann Voskamp, how she numbered gifts with her camera, framing the moments.  Every frame captures a moment, a mili-second of time never to be repeated.  The way after breakfast, they clamber up onto the couch to read books.  On tiptoes at the window to see the garbage truck on Thursday mornings.  The simple beauty of flour, butter, water, and yeast bubbling in a bowl.  The way they run to help whenever they see me drag the stool into the kitchen.  That little gap between his front teeth.  The girl on her trike, far too small for her now, but still her favorite.  The way she turns to see if I am watching.  Always looking to see if I see her.  I do, baby girl, I see you.  The scraggly wild berries and flowers growing alongside the riverbank.  Ordinary, common.  Beautiful.  Hot steaming loaves pulled from the oven, and the way that nothing smells as good as fresh bread at home after wind whipped cheeks and frozen fingers.

Rhythms.  Rhythms of these days.  Simple.  Small.  Barely noticeable.  Easily forgotten.  I don’t want to miss it.  I don’t want to forget.  I want to give thanks, capture the moments, hands full of memories and moments to hold out to Him and praise Him for.  I love this season, I love these rhythms, Lord.  Costly.  Often painful.  Sometimes downright boring.  But precious.  Worthy.  Heavy with the weight of glory.

surrendering to the seasons

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This week finds us laid low at home with a nasty head cold.  The kids and I have been fighting low fevers, runny noses and sore throats all week, not to mention the fatigue and bad attitudes that easily accompany such symptoms.  We’ve pretty much stayed home all week, surrendering to the rhythm of what God has given this week, and all the copious opportunities for sanctification that have resulted.  This rainy, dreary Friday finds my soul rainy and downcast as well.  The hard work of parenting has truly bowled me over a bit this week.  Bombs and airplanes have exploded in the skies in the world this week, and in our little home, words and tempers have flared hot as well.

Rain drips in steady streams from the awning outside the window.  I can’t help but feel God’s heart weeping too.  Weeping over angry words, thoughtless hands, grumbling hearts.  Weeping over the sin in us.  The sin in the four walls of this house, the sin in the angry bombings in Israel, the sin in the pulsing, beating chambers held within my frail flesh.

It’s summer here in these blue mountains, and the vast field in front of our home is full of ripening blackberries.  Brandon was out in the foggy, dusky morning, picking for an hour or so.  And though I can hardly muster the energy to do it, I gather the kids together this morning to take what God has given and to make something of it.  To make something together.  To tie on apron strings and pray for family ties to bind together.  To pour flour and sugar and butter in a bowl and put our six hands together in the mess of it, and pray for something beautiful and tasteful to be produced by these hands, instead of hurt we are so easily capable of.  To place the elements together in one dish into the heat, and to pray for something better to come out of it, as a result.

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“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” {Eccl. 3:1}

It’s hard to surrender to the seasons.  I want only good days.  Only summer-sun-fruit-producing days.  Only laughter and comfort and love.  But God has demonstrated His wisdom in the use of seasons.  There is a time for every season, a time for planting and waiting and hoping for fruit.  A time for harvesting and enjoying an overwhelming abundance.  A time for the earth to freeze as hard as iron and for all to appear dead forever.  A time to long for the signs of life, and a time to long for that first wisp of snow that closes us up in our homes with books, crackling fires and all things pumpkin.  It would be iron pride in me that would demand to produce all the time and never allow the field to lie fallow.  As much as I want to always keep the same pace in our home, the same happy, busy pace, I have heard the Lord calling me every day this week to surrender to the season of this week, which has consisted of wiping noses, holding feverish children, reading books and taking naps.  It has meant surrendering to seeing more of the interior walls of our home than playing out in the sun.  It has meant seeing more of the interior of our hearts, than the busyness that often proves to mask the issues bubbling underneath.  It has meant fighting the gloominess that easily descends over my heart in a week like this, and looking for the grace and the gift hidden in the bitter.

In all things, in all things, give thanks. {1 Thess. 5:18}

I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall continually be in my mouth. {Psa. 34:1}

The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him.
{Nahum 1:7}

The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works. {Psa. 145:9}

In God’s economy, life and death are both a part.  Life always comes from death.  It’s His sure promise.  That’s how we can have rejoicing in the sorrow, because we know every form of death has been overcome, and a season of life, in due time, is coming.  Tender mercy is hovering over death.  That is how I can find joy even in a week where the days have ended in hot tears and hot baths.  I must be willing to embrace every small death He gives if I want to see new life.  I must surrender to the seasons.

And He has made everything beautiful in its time. {Eccl. 3:11}

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preparing for storms

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Take more ground on the good days.”

I read those words some months ago, back in the heat of North Carolina’s summer.  I have thought of them so often since then.  Susie Larson, author of Your Beautiful Purpose, was writing about a concept from her fitness-instructing days.  The concept is that there are days you wake up feeling somehow stronger, with more clarity, energized.  Those are the days you take extra ground in your fitness goals: push harder, lift more, run farther.

“Leverage the day to your advantage…because a day is coming when you’ll feel less than stellar and it’ll be all you can do to show up for your workout.  In order not to lose ground on those difficult days, you need to gain ground on the favorable days.”

What am I doing with my good days, the days where running feels easy?  What am I doing with my strength, with the seasons of blessing?

The hard days just come.  God tries to prepare us, He is as up-front as He can be: “in this world you WILL have trouble,” He says {John 16:33}.  You don’t wait for the storm to be upon you before you start building up a strong home, a safe haven, a good foundation.  If you wait, you will surely come to ruin!  You run hard in the good days.  You run a little harder, a little farther.  You leverage that strength.  You prepare for the storms that will inevitably come.

You know they are coming, they are not going to derail you.

You know they’re coming, they’re not to going to make you question why a good God would allow them.  He has told you He will allow them.  He has told you to take heart because even though the trouble WILL come, He has already overcome it.  And so you plan to lean hard into that future grace.

And so when you feel like you have earned a rest, that maybe you can sit back a bit on your laurels, maybe this is the time to run ahead.

Don’t wait for the storms to come to start battening down the hatches.  Batten down the hatches on the good days, when you’re feeling strong, when you can hardly imagine a hard day in sight.  When you feel like your marriage couldn’t be stronger.  Your parenting skills are pretty great.  Your relationship with God is good.  You’ve got this “quiet time” thing down pat.  You pray like you want to.  Your finances are ship shape.  Your portfolio is impressive.  Your job is smooth sailing.

Use that good season, leverage it.  You know hard times will come.  And will your faith stand?  Will your marriage stand?  You won’t have the strength to set a good foundation in your marriage or in your walk with God when the hard blows come.  It’s then that you need a strong home already built to weather that storm.

It’s part of what is so hard and broken about this life here on this terrestrial sod.  The working never really ceases.  You clean the floors, and that’s about as good as it gets for a few minutes.  Because part of the fallenness of this place is that left to its own devices, everything naturally falls into a state of decay.  Nothing improves without our working.  Without maintenance and constant, persevering attention.  And without our attention, everything slowly quietly falls into disrepair.

You don’t do this out of fear.  You do this out of wisdom.

You need some scripture planted deep down in the marrow of your soul for the times when you don’t know when to turn in His Word.  For the times when you’re groping for His voice.  {Consider joining in here with a group to memorize scripture, soul-sustaining words from Christ in the Gospel of John.}

Maybe you need to try some new things in your marriage, make some goals that include sustaining and nourishing your marriage in new ways.

You place yourself in a network of other moms, maybe some older moms too.

Maybe you seek out and build up some solid friendships even though you’re feeling pretty good and independent.

I know some people aren’t into January and new year resolutions.  Who wants to set goals when you just finished the last year and feel like you blew it?  Who really wants to try again?  And some people argue we should always be living in today so we don’t need to be setting goals for tomorrow.  But what about stepping back and taking stock?  What about seasons where we evaluate how we’re doing, where we clear our muddled vision and set sights afresh on the goal, and consider how to run for that goal well?  This is what I love about January, and the freshness of a new year, and the setting of goals or resolutions.

This is what I love about a God who gave us the physical illustration of seasons, each season bringing its own “now” and each season calling us to prepare for what’s ahead.  Tilling soil and planting seed in spring, months before you’ll see that harvest.  Chopping and stacking wood in the heat of the summer, months before you can even imagine a cold bone-chilling wind, so that it dries out and is ready for the unexpected need.  Canning and storing the yield of that harvest for the days when the ground is cold and hard as iron and no fruit is hanging from the vine.

Always, the working, the leveraging today’s strength for tomorrow’s weakness.  For what unknown but certain storm is ahead.

So tell me.. what are you doing with your good days?