Giving

IMG_5946.JPGI find my mailbox stuffed full of shiny catalogs.  The sign at Walmart carefully documents exactly how few days are left until the big holiday.  My email inbox blinks every morning with a dizzying array of emails from all my favorite companies, wanting to make sure that I don’t forget.  Christmas is coming!  Whatever we sell is certainly exactly what everyone on your gift list needs!!  It’s a sale you can’t beat!!!  Finish you gift list with us!!! Hurry, hurry, before it’s too late!!!!

And they’re right about one thing.

Christmas is coming!  But do you get as weary of all the anticipation being linked to the use of your pocket book as I do?

I’m all about a good sale.  I also really enjoy putting thought and care into shopping for just the right gifts for the people on my list, envisioning their pleasure upon receiving them.  I feel like thoughtful gift giving can be a truly unselfish and beautiful way to commemorate the giving of the greatest Gift the world has ever known.

If that’s really why you’re doing it.

Because sometimes, between the long lines at check out, neon doorbuster signs, the giant displays of cheap plastic stocking stuffers and the mailboxes overflowing with ads, we can lose sight of why we’re even engaging in this cultural practice.  It becomes simply tradition for tradition’s sake, because “that’s just what you do at Christmas”.  It becomes a burden, because “that’s what everyone expects”.  It becomes a ploy, because “if I give something, I’ll probably get something back”.  It becomes an annoyance, because “they have everything” or “I hate shopping”.  It becomes a show, because “people will be impressed by my generosity, my cleverness and my gift wrapping skills”.  It becomes a contest, because “my gift is better than your gift” (or isn’t).  It can even become depressing, because “people are so ungrateful” or “my gift isn’t as nice as I would like it to be”.

But the fact is, if our “giving” has become any of these things, it has lost it’s meaning and it’s not even giving anymore.  It has become some other self-centered practice, and in that case, the world would be better off if you just quit.

Not quit giving.  Quit giving for the wrong reasons.

Because giving isn’t the problem.  The pure act of true giving has never been anything but good.  It’s in the motive and heart of the giver where the trouble can lie.

IMG_5948.JPGI believe that the best way to keep the motive of our giving pure is to simply seek to give as Christ gave.  Jesus put Himself in a manger, knowingly beginning the path to the cross, and gave the greatest gift anyone could possibly give—Himself.  What’s more, He gave that gift to everyone in the entire history of the world, past, present and future.

He gave to people who He knew would take His gift for granted, without comprehending the infinite value of what He had done.

He gave to people who would eventually turn the greatest event in the history of the world into just one more rote tradition—“a nice story to read in December and perhaps attend church to commemorate”.

He gave to a world that just expected Him to give—“no big deal, that’s what God does, and I deserve it”.

He gave fully knowing that He would receive absolutely nothing in return from the recipients—and that they had nothing to give back even if they wanted to.

He gave knowing that His gift would be met by ungratefulness, scorn and even hatred.

He gave to needy people who had nothing but thought they were rich and had everything.

He gave even though it was unthinkably inconvenient for Him to leave His throne in the heavens and confine the Eternal God of the universe to the limits of a frail human body.  He gave even though it would eventually mean excruciating pain of soul and body before the giving of His gift was finished.

He gave expecting to impress no one, but only to please His Father.

No, contrary to what the retail world might like us to think, Christmas isn’t about presents.  But the celebration of Christ’s birth is absolutely about giving.

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)

“But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness, and in…love…see that you also excel in this grace of giving…For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:7, 9)

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

“Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35)

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Declaring the Glory

IMG_5961.JPGIMG_5939IMG_5962-1.jpgIt was a long, happy weekend of giving thanks.  During family dinner as the silverware clinked on fine china, then again later as wedges of pie were passed, between friends, during joyful church services and into microphones, I heard people express gratefulness for so many beautiful things.

Some were humorously indicative of current life situations, such as…

“Getting 24-hour flu instead of a prolonged cold.”

“All the snow melting so I don’t have to plow.”

“Lefse.”

“Baby sleeping through the night.” 

Others were sweetly tearful, deeply emotional, such as…

“Healing.”

Long lists of volunteer services.

“A phone call from a long lost family member.”

“You.”

After all the feasting and gathering was over, I took an evening walk under leaden skies, picking my way along the the icy ruts of our driveway as I mentally added a few more things to the list, like:

“Cartons of freshly laid brown eggs in my fridge.”

“Homemade brown sugar hazelnut lattes.”

“The sound of little feet pitter-pattering down the hall.”

It was a wonderfully cheering thing to do on an otherwise drab evening.  But then this happened:IMG_5894.JPGIMG_5900.JPG The dim, dreary skies lit unexpectedly up with all this splendor that kept going and going and going and wouldn’t stop.  I paused to notice the first flush of pink, and then stopped to watch in awe as it spread and rippled and flamed across the entire canopy of the heavens curving over my world.  Then the coyotes started to yap far off in the forest, and I thought about the fact that there’s more than one way to make your voice heard.

People say it with words, the animals with their own unique sounds, the sky with color, each one declaring thanks and glory.  Yes, glory!

For the small things, for the large things, in all things.

To God, our Creator, Giver, Sustainer.

Because giving thanks really is just another way of giving glory.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

“All Your works shall give thanks to You, O LORD, And Your godly ones shall bless You.” (Psalm 145:10)

Winter Fun

IMG_5779-1.jpgRun, slide, repeat.

That’s what I and the otters did last week, I on my skis, they out on the ice, each in our own way celebrating the return of glorious winter to the northwoods.  That early November snow was some of the finest I’ve ever been privileged to make a trail through, and judging from their antics across the lake, perhaps the ice was, too?  Anyway, we certainly seemed to be agreed on the idea that all this cold stuff was meant to be enjoyed!

Then, as the sun lowered on the horizon, they’d run off in a companionable row, as you see them above, straight into their cozy den, and I’d swish my way back to my warm little house to wrap my cold fingers around a hot mug and sip steaming sweetness.  IMG_5812.JPGAh, winter with all your juxtapositions of icy beauty and cozy routines—how glad I and my sleek fun-loving neighbors are to welcome you back!

And speaking of fun, thank you to each one of you who played along in my little guessing game a couple posts back!  In case you forgot or missed the post, I asked people to guess the book of the Bible where the “psalm” I used in the post was found, as well as which photo was taken in the city rather than the country.

The correct answers were: 1) the book of Daniel (2:19-23, if you want to look it up!) and 2) the first photo of bright red snake root vines.  Unfortunately, nobody quite managed to guess both correctly, so I shall have to reserve my promised prizes for a later date!  (So if you’re terribly disappointed about that, I’m sorry, but stay tuned for another chance!)

If nothing else, it was just fun for me to see who actually reads my blog.  And, by the way, that goes for every time someone takes the time to comment, whether here or on Facebook.  It’s a tiny bit of thoughtful encouragement that always makes my day, and I’m grateful!

“A man has joy in an apt answer, And how delightful is a timely word!” (Proverbs 15:23)

 

Black and White World

IMG_5685-1.jpgI’ve been seeing this black and white photo challenge happening around social media that sounded like fun.

Seven photos, no people, no explanations, just something from you life, all black and white.  These are the rules.

I suppose I’m kind of breaking one of those rules by saying even this much, but when we woke up to lowering gray skies and the first snowfall of the year, I knew it was time to take a walk and do the challenge myself.

After all, when is it easier to compose black and white photos than when the landscape has already been turned black and white for you?

IMG_5692-1.jpgIMG_5686-1.jpgIMG_5706-1IMG_5711-1.jpgIMG_5723-1IMG_5716-1And speaking of contrasts, here’s verse that contains a truly glorious one:

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Now that’s a black and white picture that takes my breath away.

Ice Skating

IMG_9956One of my favorite things about living on a lake in the winter is having unlimited ice skating access.  Getting to walk straight out your door right onto your own private skating rink?  To a girl who had to hike a good half mile for such a privilege when she was growing up, this is a luxury I don’t take for granted.  That is, except for when the weather doesn’t cooperate, like this year, and it freezes and snows at the same time, effectively ruining the ice for the rest of the winter.  What a disappointment!

When I was growing up, my siblings and I would solve this fairly common problem by clearing a giant, hockey-worthy rink by hand with the big snow scoop we dragged that long half mile down the road.  Then, we’d drill a hole with an auger, from which we pumped lake water to flood the rough surface and make it smooth again when it froze.  And did we ever have fun on the finished product!

These days, though, I’m the only ice skater in our young family, so all rink-creating ambitions have been shelved until the upcoming generation I’m helping to raise is old enough to join me in the effort of shoveling for the joy of skating. Thus, when the lake froze rough during a November snowstorm, I just figured skating was out for me this winter and turned my attention to other recreational pleasures of the season.

But I was wrong.IMG_9952February had a change of heart and decided to surprise everyone with an uncharacteristic thaw.  That thaw lasted long enough to melt the snow cover and create some pretty massive puddles of water on top of the ice.  Then, the thermometer plunged and it all froze solid again.  Then, the wind drove tiny particles of ice and snow across it for several days straight like a giant sand blaster, smoothing rough spots, scouring it largely clean of snow.  And when the sun blazed up out of the east one morning, I saw a glassy surface shining beneath it—and all my skating dreams buried since the beginning of winter rose up and wooed me out the door.

My oldest daughter, curious to see what I was going to do with those white boots on shiny silver blades, begged to come along to watch.  When we got down to the edge of the lake shore, though, she wouldn’t come any further.  “I’ll just watch you from here, Mommy,” she said.

So I picked my way out to the edge of the frozen grasses and weeds by myself, where I began the process of standing on one leg while wedging my sock-encrusted foot into a snug skate with the other.  Because, of course, in my hurry to get out there I had neglected to bring anything along to sit on.  How do blue herons do it, anyway?  In my defense, having to put something on the foot while holding it up does complicate the matter.  IMG_9884“Are you going to fall in, Mommy?” I heard the little voice call from the pink-jacketed figure perched on the bank, concerned.

“Nope,”—grunt—“I’m not going to fall in, honey.”  But I might fall over, I thought wryly to myself.  I had gone a little overboard on the warm sock layers.

But I was determined.  Stamp, stamp.  Loosen the ties again with numbing fingers in the subzero windchill.  Stamp, stamp, thump.  There.  Loop the laces, tie them tight.  One down, one to go.

“Are you sure you’re not going to fall in?” I noted that the concerned little voice in the pink jacket was closer and observed that she had moved from high on the bank down to the very edge of the lake.

“Yep”–grunt, grunt, stamp, stamp, thump.  “I’m sure, honey.” 

And I was off.  My little girl cheered.

Back and forth I went for a while, round and round, my audience of one as riveted to my performance as any Olympic crowd .  “Can I come out to you, Mommy?” she finally asked.  What she really meant was, “I believe, but—help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

“Yes, come!” I said.She made her way out to the edge of the weeds, all the way to the very edge of that great, shiny sheet of ice—and then she stopped.IMG_9881IMG_9950.JPG“Can I touch it, Mommy?”

But this time there was wonder in her voice, and by now I had stopped my skating to come near and watch.  I had forgotten that she hadn’t been on a frozen lake before, at least that she remembered—and the innocent, wide-eyed first-time experiences of a child are some of the most beautiful things in the whole world to stand audience to.

“Yes, you can touch it,” I said with a smile.  And in faith and wonder, she stepped—and the sound of her laughter and joyous delight echoed from shore to shore.

IMG_9880Funny, how my delight over getting to ice skate this winter after all managed to pale next to her delight when she overcame her fears, believed, and walked on water.

“Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified… but, immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. (Matthew 14:25-29)

Thankfully, we didn’t attempt replaying the rest of that story.

 

Pussy Willows III

img_9833In the spirit of full disclosure, I’d like to say that these pussy willows were officially spotted on February 18th, which is some kind of crazy record in my personal experience.  (I just didn’t get around to photographing them until now.)  I guess that February thaw played a bit of a trick on the willows this year, which honestly makes this post rather anticlimactic.  After all, signs of spring in February seem far too premature to be very exciting.

And yet—I can’t get away from the fact that pussy willows remain that quintessential sign of the spring’s eventual arrival.  When we get that inevitable snowstorm in a week or so, and the thermometer drops back down into the single digits, I will remember these.  Whether we have an early spring, or whether it waits until the average time—or even if it teases us and shows up late—it will surely come.img_9831And so, my husband reminded us this morning in church, will Christ.  And, interestingly, the signs of springtime are exactly the metaphor used in Scripture to parallel the signs that we can watch for to know that His coming is near.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its branches become tender and sprout leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that He is near, right at the door.” (Matthew 24:32-33)

Perhaps you were not expecting pussy willows at this time of year, and didn’t see them.  Well, it’s not the end of the world if you didn’t.

But don’t miss the signs of His coming because you weren’t expecting them.  That will be the end of the world.

Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (Matthew 24:42)

To read about what those signs of Christ’s coming will be, read Matthew 24—and to see pussy willow posts from past springs, see here and here.

February Thaw

img_9611Sometimes, nearly always, there’s no end to the cold and snow in February.

Sometimes, on this past rare week in 2017, there’s an end to all the cold and snow in February.

Instead of bemoaning the skis propped uselessly up on the front porch, and the completely uninspiring waning muddy snowbanks, I got out my little girls’ mud boots and we went looking for puddles.  At sunset.img_9615img_9624img_9620And we found them—puddles, liquid blue and silver, beneath cotton candy clouds in February.

One can never predict exactly what sort of beauty one will find. The only thing certain is that you will find it.

“He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)