Thursday, April 27, 2017

Spring at the Pond

Canada goose and ruddy duck

Mama Mallard and her ducklings

Muscovy duck

Stuck the landing ;)

Monday, April 24, 2017

"Lead on, Great Shepherd!"

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Psalm 23:1-3, ESV

"As in the East the shepherd always precedes the flock, to discover the greenest patches of grass and the least stony path, so does Jesus ever keep in front of the soul that trusts and loves Him. And it is our art to allow as small a space as possible to intervene between His footsteps and our own....

"Let us not judge God by an incomplete or unfinished scheme; let us have patience till the end shall justify the path by which we came. In the breaking dawn of eternity we shall discover that God could not have brought us by another route which would have been as expeditious, or as safe, as the one by which we have come....

"Would that we had the faith to look up from every trying circumstance, from every fretting worry, from every annoyance and temptation, into the face of our Guide, and say, 'It is the right way, Great Shepherd of the sheep; lead me on!'"

(F. B. Meyer, The Shepherd Psalm, Kindle locations 390, 437, 440)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bluebird of Happiness?

Amore discovered the hideout of an Eastern bluebird along the trail where he walks the Ebony Dog. I drove to the area, lured it by playing its calls from our birding app, and smiled wide with thanksgiving when the Lord granted these photos. I pray they give you a smile too.

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Matthew 6:26, ESV


Monday, April 17, 2017

When Providence Serves Up More Than You Can Chew {The Wren and the Peanut}

Since the Friday before Valentine's Day, my hips have joined the joint pain party with bursitis. A pair of injections helped one hip some but the other not at all. Imaging confirmed that nothing more serious is going on, which is good, but for now we're in waiting mode. Rest and ice are my best friends, and it's painful to stand, walk, or drive very long. Some days are so much better I feel encouraged that maybe I've turned a corner. Then I wake up the next day or stand too long fixing breakfast and getting ready and that progress is gone again. We don't even clearly know what caused this since there were no traumas to the area, but the working theory is that autoimmune disease is making my connective tissue very easily irritated and slow to heal.

(Oh, and I probably failed to mention that I dislocated the right side of my jaw. Biting down on a piece of chocolate. Yes, really. Thankfully, that has improved a great deal with a soft diet and significant adjustments to my bite splint that's normally only for sleep.)

As with my other joint problems, at this point the situation is "not serious, just painful." Even knowing that, the slower pace and increased limitations have triggered a fair amount of anxiety, especially since the other challenges in our extended family and with my previous problem joints continue. The Lord keeps stripping away my healthy coping mechanisms--yarncraft, piano, walking--so here I am writing to you. (Sorry about that.)

One morning when I was hurting and feeling discouraged, a little Carolina wren came to visit our back porch. I so enjoy these little birds, especially when they sing, but they are not regular guests at our feeders. That makes them the more precious when they come.

This one on this day settled down to work on something down on the concrete between the door and the feeder. He certainly seemed busy, but what was he foraging for there on the concrete? They don't eat leaves. Were there tiny bugs in the leaves?

Then I saw it: a peanut! When the woodpeckers visit the feeder, they pull beakfuls of seed out of the ports until they get the peanuts they like best. The smaller birds are intimidated by that woodpecker but quick to come and forage among his discards once he leaves. Somehow, this peanut escaped the notice of both the woodpecker and all the scavengers, and the wren won out.

Little bird, big peanut. I trained my camera on him and watched to see how my wren friend would manage this. Would he give up and eat the smaller, easier seeds instead? No, not at all.

With painstaking patience, the wee bird arched back his head like a rearing horse, swung his body forward to spear the legume with his sharp beak, and proceeded to pound it on the concrete until a small piece broke off. Then he would eat that tiny morsel and spear the rest again.

Like a mason breaking apart a rock with hand tools, the wren chipped away at his prize, his persistence slowly paying off. Fascinated, I watched for 5 minutes, until a blue jay swooped in and spooked the smaller bird into abandoning its breakfast.

His diligence in this too-large task reminded me of the old joke about eating an elephant (though who would want to?):
How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.

Crumbles, right now it often feels like the Lord in His providence has served us an elephant, or that we're wrens trying to eat a plate of peanuts. The challenges seem too big and too many, and new ones keep piling on without the removal of any of the old. It's overwhelming when I look at the pile. So very many things beyond our strength. So very many things to entrust to the Lord.

And now we have taken on another challenge, and it's a big one. Lord willing, we are moving out of Wits' End at the end of this month and into a home nearer my parents. The long-term goal is worth the short-term cost, and we believe the Lord has led us to this step. Still, it's a pretty daunting challenge for the little bird writing to you, and we are very grateful for those the Lord leads to pray for us in this transition.

Remembering this petite bird helps me press on, and I pray it does you also. The Lord doesn't call me to eat the plate of peanuts all at once. I ask, "What one small thing does He want me to do right now?" Then I seek His grace to do that one next thing (preferably without hurting myself), act in obedient faith and the strength He gives, and thank Him for the grace.

What next? How?
Grace, Lord!
Trust and obey.
Thank You, Lord.

And repeat.

Always, always, in this process I am learning to preach the gospel truth and promises of God to my heart when I feel anxious and overwhelmed about our challenges.
"We must do what we cannot do with what we do not have, but He will do through us what He can do with what He does have."
"Courage, dear heart!"

Feelings lie, but God's Word doesn't:

"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10). 
"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work" (2 Cor. 9:8).
"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Romans 8:26). 
"It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed" (Deut. 31:8). 
"Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength" (Isaiah 40:28-29).
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Cor. 12:9).

May you find encouragement here to press on in your own challenges, dear Crumble. The Lord will not fail to give you grace for the portion He assigns to you. May He keep us mindful and diligent to preach the gospel to ourselves and our sisters and brothers in Christ. May He grant us grace today to glorify His name by accomplishing the work He gives us to do and has prepared for us beforehand (John 17:4, Eph. 2:10).

Courage, dear hearts! If walking with the Lord (or crawling or being carried...) these 30 years has taught me anything it is that He is much bigger, kinder, stronger, and wiser than we want to need to discover that He is. The Lord is good. His steadfast love and faithfulness endure forever.

Friday, April 14, 2017

As a Sheep Resting in Shepherd's Care

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
John 10:7-18, ESV

"And now, O timid soul, be at rest! The blood-red brand which is upon you is a sure token that you are safe. He cannot have done so much for you to lose you now. In all moments of peril or dread, softly murmur His name, Jesus! Jesus! and He will at once comfort you by His presence and by His voice, which all the sheep know; and this shall be His assurance: 'My sheep shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand' (John 10:28).

"Hand over to Him all that breaks the stillness of your spirit, though it be but a gnat sting; and take from Him His own deep sweet rest."

~The Shepherd Psalm, F. B. Meyer, Kindle locations 271 and 305

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Scandalous Surrender

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he wasreclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard,very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.

Unclenched hands
Drip fragrant shards
Of scandalous surrender.
Substance, security, and very self
Spill out upon His feet.

(Written sometime since 2012. I don't remember writing it, but the paper it's on makes May 2012 the earliest possible date. You never know what you'll find when you're cleaning out your files.)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Problems Are the Price of Treasure

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."

Matthew 13:44, ESV

the unfortunately named yellow-rumped warbler, stopping off at Wits' End in his winter meanderings

"Our problems cannot always be fixed, but they can always be accepted as the very will of God for now, and that turns them into something beautiful. Perhaps it is like the field wherein lies the valuable treasure. We must buy the field. It is no sun-drenched meadow embroidered with wildflowers. It is a bleak and empty place, but once we know it contains a jewel the whole picture changes. The empty scrap of forgotten land suddenly teems with possibilities. Here is something we can not only accept, but something worth selling everything to buy."
From Elisabeth Elliot's book Be Still My Soul, p. 127

Crumbles, how would it change our perspective on our problems if we believed this? May the Lord open your eyes to the "treasure in the field" of your afflictions today and transform them into something beautiful. Grace to you, friends.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Chauffeur Surprise {From the Archives}

as originally posted in 2012

Last week our pastor mentioned, in a sermon on family, that a secular study has found that the thing teenagers most want from their parents is time. That surprised me, because I never remember my dad lacking time for me.

It seems we spent a lot of that time together in the car: driving to his office in the summers when I worked with him, driving to and from ballet and piano lessons, and of course driving on family vacations. Sometimes we listened to Barbra Streisand or Man of La Mancha; sometimes we talked about books or school; sometimes we talked about nothing in particular.

He was willing to be interrupted when he was in his spot on the sofa paying bills, and we didn't hesitate to call him for help when one of my sisters got the stapler stuck to her hand.

He did not shrink from hitting the tennis courts with me nearly every evening of the semester I took tennis for physical education. He was a tennis champion. I was trying to hit the ball accurately enough to pass the class. It must have been exasperating for him, but he kept coming out with me, and at least it was time together. (He coached me into a B for the class. I still enjoy watching the game but have not stepped onto a court since. He fared better with my sisters in the athletic department.)

He also has a knack for making us feel special. At the end of my senior year of high school, the generous parent of one of my Sunday school students gave me a pair of orchestra seats to see West Side Story at the music hall. With two sisters and one seat to fill, I invited my best friend from those years, and we decided to make an evening of it, dress up in formals, and dine at a fancy restaurant.

Dad was smart enough not to let us drive ourselves around Big D alone late at night, so he said he would drive us.  He left work early, but instead of his Chrysler LeBaron, this Lincoln Continental was in our driveway:

He wanted to chauffeur us properly in a limousine, but this was the closest he could rent.

Like a proper driver, he went to my friend's door, walked her out to the car, and helped her in. He took us to the restaurant, ate his own sack lunch in the car, drove us to the musical, and waited (probably with a book) until time to drive us home. I think Mom accompanied him to keep him company, but I don't remember for certain, probably due to the imaginary glass barrier between the front and back seats.

These photos lay in a box I recently sorted, and the memories made me smile as a typical example of the thoughtfulness of my dad and how well he has cared for us.

In the last two decades, he has also lavished that care and attention on children in local apartment complexes, orphans across the ocean, and the staff and congregation where he serves as deacon in a painful season of transition.

My dad is a gift from God, and it was a gift to spend the afternoon with him yesterday. It has never been difficult for me to understand the Father-love of God because of the way my dad loves me, and for that I'm so very grateful. If you did not know that kind of love from your earthly father, may the Lord dazzle you with His healing love and delight. Your Father is very fond of you.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger and rich in faithful love. 
He will not always accuse us
or be angry forever. 
He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve
or repaid us according to our offenses.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is His faithful love
toward those who fear Him.
Psalm 103:8-11, HCSB

Happy birthday, Daddy!