IMG_7564.JPGIt’s the current miry state of the driveway.

I prefer it in the mornings like this, when it’s iced over and covered in interesting geometric designs.  Not only is it more photogenic, but my walking shoes prefer the feel of crunching to oozing and the state of being dry to damp.

My children, however, like it best after it’s sat in the sunshine for a while, all delightfully wet and squishy.  This would be why mud boots are an essential part of their spring wardrobes.  Not that I am so naive as to believe that mud boots will actually keep small children enjoying a mud puddle dry or clean—but I derive some comfort from the fact that at least their feet are.IMG_7641.JPGThe rest?  Nothing a good washing machine and bathtub can’t fix.  And that’s a good reminder to praise God for this even more remarkable truth:

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols… (Ezekiel 36:25)

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. (Psalm 40:1-2)





Pussy Willow IV

IMG_7561With all these thirty-ish degree days we’ve been having lately it was bound to happen, just like it does every spring.  And yet it still took me by surprise, when I glanced up from picking my cautious way across an icy patch on the driveway, to see this happy sign of spring in the ditch.  The bursting forth of these furry little buds is so predictable, yet they always manage to catch me unawares and are always, suddenly, the most wonderful thing ever.

You’d think that after thirty-some years, I’d get used to it.  But I never have, and I like it that way, so I probably never will.  I love the surprise awakening of wonder in myself, and I love that each one is a soft pearly gray little reminder of an ancient promise, a thousand repeated little bursts of assurance all across the willowed edges of the wetlands.

“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22)

(Since I get so excited about them every year, I have to take pictures of them every year, so if you missed them, check out pussy willows from other years here: 2015, 2016, and 2017.)

What Does the Eagle Say?

IMG_7509.JPGWith the warming of the air, the signs of spring begin.  The return of this old friend to his favorite post in the old oak tree overlooking the lake is officially the first.  I heard him one afternoon, reinstating his dominance over favorite hunting grounds for all the world to hear.  He peered at me with his sharp yellow eye through the branches, skeptical of my attempts to find an angle that didn’t make it look like he was holding a stick in his beak (as you can see I was unsuccessful, so let’s just pretend he was grabbing it to add to his nest).

And then, peering up at his grand figure in the branches up there against the blue, I thought of how to describe the call I heard, and came up short.  How, exactly, do you describe the call of an eagle?  I thought someone more learned in the field of ornithology (the study of birds) than me would have a good answer—but I must say that I was disappointed.

My sources basically couldn’t agree on how to categorize the call of a bald eagle, other than that it was too musical to be called a screech, but not musical enough to be called a song.  Some call it a combination of high pitched “whistling” and “piping” (Irish penny whistle, anyone?).  Some call it “chattering”, as though it were a squirrel.  Still others liken it to “chirping”, oddly bringing the largest bird of prey down to the level of a songbird at the bird feeder.  Others go so low as to call it “squeaking”, as though it were a mouse, or, worst yet, “squealing”, which brings to mind a very unhappy pig.  I thought of “trilling”, but even that conjures more images of tree frogs and raccoons in my mind than those of soaring eagles.  “Twittering”, perhaps?  But somehow that just reminds me of a cross old owl scowling at a lot of happily love-sick songbirds in “Bambi”, not a bird who bears the weight of being a national symbol on his shoulders.  Come on, now!  Is it too much to ask for a word that accurately describes the sound, but still manages to embody the dignity of such a majestic bird?

(To be clear, this is the call I’m talking about, not the peal call of alarm which really is more like screeching.)

So, based on that sound recording, how would you vote to finish this sentence?  The eagle __________. (Whistled, piped, chattered, chirped, squeaked, squealed, trilled, twittered, or you fill in the blank with something I haven’t thought of.)  Chickens cluck, geese honk, crows caw, swans trumpet, owls hoot—but what do eagles do?  Do you think it can be boiled down to a single descriptive word—or not?

I’m somewhat tempted to side with the writer of Proverbs on this point.  Describing the voice of the eagle in one word is a mystery that I might have to be content dismissing as “too wonderful for me” and, apparently, the English language.  Though, to be perfectly fair and in context, in this case I think this writer was more in awe of the mystery of flight than flummoxed by a fruitless late night Google search for an apparently nonexistent perfect word.

“Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky…” (Proverbs 30:18-19)





IMG_7147.JPGWhen I was a young, aspiring baker, my mother taught me how to frost cookies and cakes.  It’s an experience that I remember with striking clarity because, in her kitchen, not just any frosting job would do.  Frosting (the verb, not the noun) was not merely a job to get done.  It was an art form.

We started with the least fussy of surfaces, a simple 9×13 cake.  She taught me how to spread the frosting evenly, thick to the edges but not quite touching the sides of the pan, never letting your knife touch the actual cake.  If you did it right, there was this beautifully rounded smooth edge to the whole sweet mass.  Then, you went back over the whole thing and made rows of dips or swoops, evenly but quickly so it didn’t look like you tried too hard.  If you did that part right, it looked as effortless and beautiful as the wind-tossed waves of sun-kissed lake.  If you didn’t—well, let’s just say that’s what my first attempts looked like.

From there we graduated to different surfaces, different kinds of frosting.  Whipped cream allowed the greatest abandon of perfection, and was great fun—but one still had to fuss with it a bit, because it still needed to look artsy.  Meringue was where deeper dips were needed to create the desired peaks; extra points if those peaks curled at the tips.  Glaze required wrist flicking, and the artful contriving of “even” drips all around.

Shaped sugar cookies were the final test of my basic skills, and true sign that I was about to graduate.  The technique was just like a cake, only applied with the tippiest-tip of a butter knife, maintaining that smooth rounded edge all around varied curves that included the narrow length of gingerbread arms and complicated crystaled forms of snowflakes.  You never scraped you knife on the edge of a cookie.  That was what the edges of the frosting bowl were for.

Once I’d mastered that, you’d think I’d arrived—but not so!  That’s when I started poring over her folder full of Wilton cake decorating books.  I’d hover around the table with my siblings, watching with fascination as my mom turned the sides of a layer cake into a woven basket and created three-dimensional roses on the end of a giant nail for our picture-perfect birthday cakes.  It was time to advance to a whole new level.IMG_7113.JPGIMG_7130IMG_7128IMG_7135IMG_7109.JPGOn mornings when I wake up to a frosted world, I can’t help thinking back to what it was like learning to frost.  I enjoyed learning, but mastering the techniques certainly didn’t happen overnight.  This refined coating of a thousand minute crystals deposited by a sudden drop in temperature, on the other hand, does.

I love how God makes something we have to work so hard to do right look so stunningly effortless.

“He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes.” (Psalm 147:16)

A Sparkling Performance

img_7343-e1518823912498.jpgWatching the wind move fine snow over the landscape is mesmerizing to me.

The snow dances,

whisked low, sifting as smooth as the most refined granulated sugar over the open spaces,

then spinning around to be thrown high, chasing billows of itself wild and free through the limitless expanse of the air.

The swirling and pouring creates this constantly changing landscape of fine layers, and miniature buttes, mesas, dunes and canyons.

Best of all is when the sun is shining at the same time, adding sparkle and shimmer and gold to elevate the entire show from mesmerizing to magnificent.IMG_6885img_6877-e1519176732283.jpgimg_6862.jpgIMG_6873IMG_7376-1.jpgIt’s like an Olympic figure skating performance, complete with the artistry, sparkles and gold.  The wind and the snow, they are like the perfect couple, as the wind tosses the snow up, spinning, catching it again with effortless ease, moving in perfect time with each other and the sound of their own music.  Only it’s right in my front yard, nobody’s keeping track of points, and I seem to be the only one watching.

But there the comparisons will have to cease, because other than the suspense of who will win, the required precision and ranking system of such a human performance removes it from the sheer mystery and wonder to be found in the movement of the wind and it’s interplay with the snow.

It’s no wonder that Solomon chooses the wind, then, as his comparison to the great mystery of how God works.

“As you do not know the path of the wind…so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. (Ecclesiastes 11:5)

Or, as a more familiar passage states it:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
            Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.

      “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
            So are My ways higher than your ways
            And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

An Ode to Resilience

img_9657This is oxalis triangularis, otherwise known as purple shamrock.  It sits in my south window in the perfect spot to catch the full sun, positioned right where I can enjoy it whenever I’m sitting in my favorite chair nursing the wee babe, or less frequently, as I am this week, convalescing from illness.  I especially love the way the sunlight glows through the translucent lavender petals and maroon leaves, and the way those tri-lobed leaves go to bed every night when the sun goes down, folding up neatly into little origami points.

It’s my very favorite houseplant—but nice as all these things are, it might surprise you to know that it’s really an entirely different quality than these that elevated it to the top of the list.

What this photo doesn’t tell you is that last week, this favorite plant of mine had an accident.  We won’t name any names, but lets just say that having houseplants in the same house as toddlers is a rather optimistic idea.  Also, this is why I don’t (or shouldn’t) ever buy expensive flower pots.  Furthermore, it’s the third accident it’s had of this sort, not to mention multiple other instances of small hands plucking off way too many leaves and stems, because apparently I’m not the only one who thinks it’s pretty.

It’s not what I would call a sturdy plant by looking at it.  The leaves are tender and the stems easily broken, and every accident has literally crushed it.  Every time I’ve tucked it into a new pot when the former has been broken, or given it an extra drink after an inopportune childish pruning, I’ve thought that surely this was it.  Surely, the oxalis was going to succumb to adversity this time around.  I’ve had other houseplants that have given up the ghost under far less trying circumstances.

And, for a few days, it generally supports my fear.  All the remaining foliage dies.  By all appearances, it is time to dump the pot and move on with life.  But, always, just when I’ve given up on it, the coil of a tiny translucent shoot appears, tipped in the deep purple of the tiniest of exquisite new leaves—and the oxalis lives on yet again.

This seemed quite miraculous to me until I learned that the key to the strength of the oxalis is not in it’s stems, leaves or flowers, or even it’s roots.  It’s strength is actually in tiny tuberous bulbs, which are the true, hidden heart of the plant.

This then is the quality that has elevated this little houseplant to the top of my list of favorites.  A gorgeous little plant that obligingly flowers year round and can bounce back after any manner of toddler encounters?  This may very well be perfection in a pot.

There are quite a few lessons here, but perhaps the most important is that a person’s ability to handle hard times with resilience stems directly from where they are drawing their strength in all of the other times.  And the people who I have watched face trying times, who get back up time after time, with wounded souls shining strong, beautiful and tender yet again, always have one thing in common: their day-to-day lives have been centered in Christ.  There’s a difference, you see, between rising from adversity with a shell of hardened bitterness or cynicism, and that of rising from adversity with a renewed growth in faith, gentleness and hope.  Only a heart deeply rooted in Jesus can do that.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

“He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.” (Isaiah 40:29)

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

“My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2)

To view a fun time lapse video of oxalis leaves “going to sleep”, go here.




img_6749.jpgOh, to be a porcupine up in a tree,

a conspicuous ball of black against the blue,

placidly nibbling tree buds,

oblivious to the -25 wind chill,

whose only response to a curious passerby ankle deep in snow

(after that twinkling in his eye—or was I imagining that?)

is to curl up into a slightly tighter ball,

just to be sure I didn’t forget that he had nothing to be afraid of underneath all that spiky armor.

IMG_6744.JPGBut I suppose that since I can’t be a porcupine

I can be a city on a hill instead, or maybe a lamp on a stand—or maybe both at once, since they have so much in common.

Especially the way a city glows after dark,

conspicuous for miles around in it’s reflections up to the heavens,

placidly humming with all the activity that makes it a city,

stoplights constantly switching colors,

brake lights flashing and turn signals blinking,

people closing the blinds at night so they can sleep in spite of the constant glow of lampposts.

Cities, like porcupines, don’t really know who might be wearily traveling

down long highways way off in the darkness,

gazing at the lights,

moving towards them and their promise of things to eat and places to lay their heads—

but they shine on steady through the night anyway.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)