Sunday, August 21, 2016

Greatheart {A Poem}



The sleeping princess wakened by her prince—
Such is the stuff of fairy tales, I’m told;
In once-upon-a-time land all goes well
When comes the prince before the spell grows cold.

My heart had slept until you came, sweet prince,
Though I’m no princess, but a frog, I fear.
Still, your arrival slowly broke the spell
And woke the sleeping princess with a tear;

A gentle voice, a noble heart, and since
The King arranged it, music ringing, too;
A kindred mind, love for lost souls as well—

This prince is stuff of fairy tales come true.
                           ~a poem from our engagement days


{Wishing my dear husband a happy anniversary and many blessings for all he is to me xxoo}

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Through Thorny Ways, a Joyful End

 This hymn is an excellent example of the merits of talking to oneself, a "crumb" which is nourishing me at present. May the Lord bless it to your soul's use as well.

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.

~original German by Ka­tha­ri­na A. von Schle­gel, translated into English by Jane L. Borth­wick

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Perseverance


Sing, heart within me, though no shout ascendeth,
No trumpet soundeth on this battlefield.
Yet sing, my heart, O sing the Grace that lendeth
Courage to stand thy ground and not to yield.

Not in me, Lord, Thou knowest, was there ever
Strength to endure, or any fortitude.
Now in the silence, come--for I would never
Miss Thy bright Presence, walk in solitude.

Broken my sword--what use a weapon broken?
Yet with that broken blade till set of sun
I fain would fight. O blessed be the token--
The secret token saith: Fight on! Fight on!
~Amy Carmichael, Mountain Breezes

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Mendenhall Glacier {From the Lone Star to the Last Frontier}

For the backstory, please see the post, "Courage, Dear Heart!" This post is primarily photos, so e-mail readers may prefer to view the Web version of Mendenhall Glacier {Lone Star to Last Frontier, 2015}.

Our last excursion stop in Juneau was our first glacier of the trip, the Mendenhall Glacier. We didn't have much time to explore but did see salmon and make a quick tour of the visitor center.














Sunday, August 7, 2016

Deeper Roots

We lost a tree this week. It was our tall, slim poplar, the one which served as temporary home to Lucy the stray parakeet in April.


Actually, it had been visibly ailing for a few weeks, but towards the end of last week the decline accelerated and we called an arborist to diagnose the problem. It looked like November, the poplar's yellow brown leaves the size of salad plates blanketing the lawn, dwindling numbers clinging to branches.


The tree expert dug around the base, scraped into the bark and roots, and pronounced his verdict: root rot.




We had made two mistakes: planting the tree too deep in the ground, so that the soil and mulch smothered the root flare, and choosing the wrong tree in the first place. This kind of poplar, similar to a cottonwood, grows quickly here in north Texas. It sends its energy more into growth of the tree upward than to growth of the root system downward and outward. It's also a soft, porous wood. Both factors leave it with weak defenses against the stresses of drought, hail, high winds, and floods, all of which we have experienced in its short life.

When hail stripped the first set of leaves off the tree in March, the rotting roots meant the poplar had to draw on stored energy in each cell of the tree to generate new leaves and sustain its life until the new leaves could produce their own energy from sunshine and chlorophyll. When another hail storm and flooding rains succeeded the March storm, the tree's demise was not only assured but sped along. Without deep, strong roots to anchor the tall trunk in the earth, a delay in having it taken down would only increase the likelihood of failure, which could only mean significant property damage for us or our neighbors.

Consequently, Thursday the team of a climber and a chipper arrived to strip the once-beautiful poplar of her branches, bottom to top, and then chop apart the trunk section by section from the top down.





The arborist told me, "It's always sad to lose a tree, but if you wanted to look on the bright side, this is your opportunity to replace it with something better." We asked for his recommendations, and one on his short list, given the other trees in the immediate area, was a Chinkapin white oak. In contrast to the poplar we lost, this oak is slow growing vertically but puts out deep, extensive roots. It's resistant to the oak wilt that can kill other oaks quickly here, and it's a hard wood, making it more resistant to rot. We have now learned the hard way about planting at the proper depth to leave the root flare above the soil line.

All that remains. The utility cables are too close to have the stump ground.

This story is not just a cautionary tale about gardening or the care and feeding of trees, however. The whole event has me thinking about roots more generally and metaphorically. The prophet Jeremiah wrote about trees, roots, and extreme weather in the seventeenth chapter of the book named for him:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
(Jeremiah 17:7-8 ESV)
The six years of this blog's existence have indeed been a season of heat and drought. My soul has had to sink deeper roots in the Lord and His grace to survive, and by God's grace I'm still here, still fighting with every new challenge to look up and say, "I trust You. Your way is better. I don't like this, but I trust that you know what I need more than I do. Don't let this pain be wasted. Use it for Your glory, my good, and the growth of your kingdom."

Verdant leaves and fruitfulness are not for me to assess. Often I still do fear and suffer anxiety. My ongoing chronic pain and limitations cost others at least as much as they do me, and that adds sorrow to sorrow. Not one of the hardships my loved ones face is something I can fix or even mitigate.

The arborist's words about the oak comfort me in this. The slowness or even seeming lack of visible progress and growth may mean that the energy is going into my root system, going deeper into the Lord to find the nourishment only He can give. In time, someday, this particular season of affliction will end, and that growth below the surface will not be in vain. It may make me more resilient in the next season of drought and scorching heat, more fruitful regardless of circumstance. Even if the only benefit is increased knowledge of God and Christ, both in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, it will be worth the affliction that brought it about. Our Lord is growing us into sequoias, not wildflowers, which means we need His enduring grace so we can endure.

Remembering the first season of brokenness in my Christian life, I recognize that I didn't know at the time the growth that was underway, but hindsight shows me that I learned more of the Lord and His Word during that season than I did in my year of seminary (as valuable as that was). I wouldn't take a million dollars to live that ordeal over again, but I wouldn't trade a million dollars for what it gave me.

If you are in a season of affliction right now, I pray these musings encourage you and give you hope. May the Lord make us fruitful in the land of our affliction. May He cultivate in us a trust in His good, faithful, true person that will withstand whatever drought, storm, heat, or ice His providence decrees. May He draw our roots deeper and deeper into Himself through His Son, His Word, worship, and prayer. May all our spiritual seasons bring glory to His name, for Jesus' sake. Amen.

***************************
Thank you, crumbles, for gracing me with your time, friendship, and prayers for the last six years. You are a blessing!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Even as a Weaned Child

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.
(Psalm 131 ESV)


Papa Cardinal feeding his young
Baby blue jay
Psalm 131 with its reference to "a weaned child" reminds me of two things. The first is the year I worked as a full-time nanny to an infant girl. Several times each day on the schedule her mother had laid out, I would cradle her close, an elbow supported by a throw pillow or the arm of the sofa, and give her her bottle. It was a sweet and healing time after several pivotal, painful years for me.

From time to time, however, her appetite would revive too quickly for me to feed her again. If I were holding her then, she would root around in my shirt—a futile endeavor—like a hungry piglet.

This stopped happening as she transitioned into cereal and pureed food. As she was weaned from dependence on her mother's milk as her primary nourishment, she became better able to rest in my arms without trying to get anything more from me than that closeness.

My sister's 9 year-old twins, far removed from those days and already threatening to eat Terza out of house and home, still love to lean up against their uncle or grandpa at family gatherings, not to play, not to curry favor, but just to be close, to snuggle up under the wing of someone strong whom they trust. It's so beautiful to see.

My other constant association with this Psalm is the poem "Even as a Weaned Child" by Amy Carmichael, Irish missionary to India. I've been remembering it often in recent months, especially when my heart cries no to some painful providence. Perhaps one of you crumbles may find it fortifying too.

And shall I pray Thee change Thy will, my Father,
Until it be according unto mine?
But no, Lord, no, that never shall be; rather,
I pray Thee, blend my human will with Thine. 
I pray Thee, hush the hurrying, eager longing;
I pray Thee, soothe the pangs of keen desire;
See in my quiet places wishes thronging;
Forbid them, Lord; purge, though it be with fire.
And work in me to will and do Thy pleasure;
Let all within me, peaceful, reconciled,
Tarry content my Well-belovèd’s leisure­­­­­­—
At last, at last, even as a weaned child.
~Mountain Breezes, p. 229
He is enough. His will is best. Have we the courage to believe it and rest in Him?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Juneau: Whales {Lone Star to Last Frontier, 2015}

For the backstory, please see the post, "Courage, Dear Heart!" This post has an overabundance of photos, so e-mail readers may prefer to view the Web version of Juneau Whales {Lone Star to Last Frontier, 2015}. If you view the whole, I pray it refreshes and encourages your heart today.

Almost one year ago, my parents, Amore, and I spent an evening having dinner and selecting our cruise excursions for our special trip to Alaska. When we got to planning the second port of call, Juneau, my parents were like children writing their letter to Santa in their enthusiasm for the whale watching excursion. Amore and I, never having observed whales in the wild, had no basis for understanding their excitement but gladly agreed.


Not knowing quite what to expect but hoping the afternoon would be as pleasant as the lighthouses and eagles excursion in Ketchikan the day before, we boarded our excursion ship, the St. Phillip, complete with ship's dog (who awaited its masters on the dock). As we settled into benches in the glassed-in lower deck, the captain told us, "If you're here to see whales, the best seats on the boat are anywhere but here. I strongly encourage you to go upstairs and watch from outside."

Knowing how my ankles and back dislike stairs, we climbed up, knowing I at least would be staying there for most of the journey.





The mist-veiled scenery was lovely, and it was hard to grasp that people actually lived there, within view of the mountains and bay every day and all year.

Then the show started. Humpback whales by the dozen, perhaps totaling a hundred or more, appeared in the near, far, and middle distances. Having learned from the Ketchikan excursion the previous day, Amore watched for the spray which meant a whale was about to surface and called out the direction using the clock-face analogy. I kept my eye glued to my camera's view finder and took as many shots as I could find and focus.

Although our guides told us humpback whales are usually solitary animals unless bubble net feeding, we saw numerous mother-calf pairs swimming in parallel.





We witnessed a dozen slow arcs through the water, from spout to blowhole past the dorsal fin to the fluke.








We learned that the underside of the fluke is as unique as a human fingerprint and therefore used to catalog the whales in the Alaskan waters.







Lest we grow bored with the whales, we sailed past an island of sea lions and witnessed what appeared to be an argument.







The light flirted with us, peeking in and out of the clouds and changing the colors of the landscape.






How fitting, then, that my memory verse that week was this:
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
(Isaiah 40:12 ESV)

As vast as the surrounding landscape seemed to me, it's nothing compared to the vastness of the God who created it and infinitely dwarfs the mountains and waves that made us feel so miniscule.


A hanging glacier

A few whales waved their side flippers at us as we passed.



A couple surfaced on their backs, showing us their baleen, which filter their food from the sea water, and the deep throat grooves where a chin would be, if whales had chins.



Our favorite, however, by far, were breaches like this one, when a creature as long as a Greyhound bus leapt out of the water, rotating slightly as it rose, and splashed back into the bay like a child doing a cannonball into a pool.








The awe we tourists felt at the display of those few hours was not exclusive to us. Even the crew of the St. Phillip told us that in over 20 years of running these excursions, they'd never seen a day of whale-watching like this.

The LORD of heaven and earth, the sea and all that lives in it, asked Job, "Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook or press down his tongue with a cord?" (Job 41:1 ESV). The implied answer is, "No, Job, you can't." But we tourists from Texas know this God, the same God who told a great fish to swallow up Jonah the wayward prophet and then later to spit him back out on the shore. It was no accident that all these whales converged and showed off for us in that space of time; it was God's gracious providence. Out of kindness, certainly, and for other reasons of His own, He sent them like a coach calling plays, charting X's and O's for players to execute, only with more authority.

Having witnessed it, what could we do but echo the Psalmist,
O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the sea, great and wide,
which teems with creatures innumerable,
living things both small and great. 
There go the ships,
and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.
(Psalm 104:24-26 ESV)

Y'all, we got to see "Leviathan" at play! I still can't get over it. The sun was declining, and we still had one more stop in Juneau before returning to our ship, but none of us wanted to leave these wonders.

A bald eagle welcomed us back, and we said good-bye to this part of Juneau's waters.




All praise and blessing be to God's holy name!