Small, but Never Alone

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Gentle Reader,

Look up and see!
Who created these?
He brings out the stars by number;
He calls all of them by name.
Because of His great power and strength,
not one of them is missing.

– Isaiah 40:26 (CSB)

I grew up on three-and-a-half acres of rented land, close enough to town that a trip to the store was no big deal but far enough away from everything that I could hear the crickets chirp during the twilight hours. The soft neighing of horses floated across the dirt road, changing to excited whinnies as they began to run and play. Sky-high, skinny pine trees bent and waved in the wind, never breaking but coming perilously close to it in my eyes. A bullfrog lived near the water spigot, competing with the owls for noisiest nocturnal creature. The neighbors’ big black-and-white dog would lay in the middle of the road, always confident that cars would go around him.

We didn’t have air conditioning, so summers were brutal. If we weren’t at the beach or the library, my brother and I would sprawl across the living room floor, on a sheet my mother misted with water, underneath the ceiling fan buzzing at full blast. Fudgecicles melting quickly, we watched episodes of “I Love Lucy,” cracking up at the antics of the goofy redhead. Our dog was always close by, ready to catch any chocolately goodness we missed, but mostly just looking to find a cool spot.

Dinner, after my father got home from work, was usually something cold – salad, sandwiches, occasionally cereal. Sometimes, after eating, we would run through the sprinkler, giggling and competing to see who could do the best jumps through the streams of water. As the oldest, I of course always won, though my brother probably thinks otherwise.

On the hottest nights, when nobody could sleep, we would lay on an old quilt in the front yard and look up at the stars. Nobody said much. Just gazed at black velvet, decorated with sparkling diamonds. The wind in the trees, the frogs and owls and crickets singing, the horses playing, the stars slowly moving, as they do, across the sky. I felt very small, and oddly alone, in the midst of that.

I still feel that way when I stand out on my back porch of an evening, only now I know the proper label to attach to the emotion: awe. The stars remind me that He is interested in every detail, no matter how small. He creates only beautiful, good things. He is continually active and present in every aspect of life.

I think of the uncounted prayers that have been whispered, under the cover of darkness, with moon and stars as only witness. Of the animals who know it’s time to sleep, without anyone telling them, when the sky shifts from blue to black. Of the God who has ears to hear every cry and hands large enough to hold all His creatures close.

And I am small in the midst of that, very small. But nowhere near alone.

Who am I, that the God who breathes fire into the stars above, should notice me? Love me? Save me?

What an incredible God!

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Review: This Outside Life

Gentle Reader,

I believe God wants us to notice it all.

– p. 7

Misty mountains, rippling prairie grasses, towering trees and multiple lakes – these are all around me, and have been all my life. For years, I was dulled to their beauty. Though I knew from a young age that I preferred the quiet of country roads and barely-beaten paths to the noise of cities, nothing in my surroundings seemed unique or unusual.

Then I took a long walk one early autumn evening, in the time when the sun disappears and twilight spreads its mysterious cloak over the earth. I watched as a glorious and indescribable array of colors – gold, violet, fiery orange – danced across the sky, putting on a spectacular show for any who cared to notice. And notice, I did. It was as if God arranged that display specifically for me, to remind me of His goodness and constant presence.

Crickets began their song. Frogs joined in. The colors faded into the gray-blue of the thin place, when the veil between this world and the spiritual realm is at its thinnest. In that moment, I began to understand why God called His creation good.

In This Outside Life: Finding God in the Heart of Nature, Laurie Kehler calls the reader to connect with this goodness in order to foster a deeper, more intimate relationship with God:

Spending time in nature is healing. It can draw you closer to the creative heart of God. It can help anxiety. It can help ADHD. It can give you a new perspective. Spending time outside is good for your insides. It’s no wonder that Beethoven, Einstein and Steve Jobs all took long walks outside. It quieted their minds and fueled their creativity. In 1910, hiker and philosopher John Muir noted that we were a “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.” We need to reconnect with nature now more than ever. … I want you to step outside and find the heart of God in nature. … He’s there. He’s everywhere.

– p. 13-14

Having never known a day without anxiety, even stretching back to my earliest memories, I can attest to the truth of her statement. The worst days are made better when I take the time to get outside, whether that is going for a hike, wading in the always-cold river or digging my hands into the dirt of my garden. The fresh air and physical activity shift my focus from whatever is scaring me and onto the sound of birds singing, the scent of pine trees, the touch of grass on my skin. God lays His hand on my head and says, “Rest, child. Rest.”

Kehler not only makes this call, but issues another, to remember that we need to connect with others within the context of outside. To step outside of our homes, workplaces and traditional worship centers. To gather around the campfire, roast marshmallows and drink bad coffee:

Community and connection are the antidotes for anxiety, isolation, and depression. A caring community cultivates contentedness. This is reflected in the Hebrews passage where it states: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near” (10:24-25 NLT).

– p. 93

I read this and a fond memory rises to the surface. I am a young teen, baby cousin balanced on my knee, watching the crackling fire and listening as my dad and uncles tell ridiculous stories. The whole family is present. Grandma, her five sons, their wives, her fourteen grandchildren (two more would be added in years to come), plus a few friends who came along. None of us have had a decent shower because the campsite is as basic as can be. The boy cousins are all about this; we girls, less so. But despite the grime and grit, we are happy.

I think of another campfire, more recent. Church family gathered around. I sit, shivering despite the flames and several layers because warm is not really a thing I ever am these days, with a big dog at my feet, just waiting for a bit of s’more to drop. People drawn from various backgrounds and experiences, whose only commonality is Jesus. And He is more than enough.

This is the point that Kehler makes, time and again,

…the romance of stars and how they hint at a loving an imaginative Creator. I like to think of His hand scattering the confetti of brilliance across the carpet of sky. I like to ponder God’s immensity, artistry and care for the great and small things He has made.

– p. 116

Yes, great and small, the Lord God made them all.

Spending time in nature is meant to drive us not to worship the creation, but the Creator. It is a choice to slow down and refocus, reprioritize. The world and its break-neck pace will not give us permission to do so, and thus we must be intentional. Close the laptop, turn off the phone, lace up the boots and go. Have a spot of adventure, done with a dash of daring. And then sit, whether on a mountain peak or in the midst of a perfectly plotted rose garden, wrapped in silent awe and wonder.

For the King made all this. He is so very good.

Kehler’s words will stay with me for some time to come. Definitely recommend this one.

I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK IN EXCHANGE FOR MY FAIR AND HONEST REVIEW.
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Sketches: Dirt

Dirt

Gentle Reader,

It’s really hot. It’s stupid.

So, let’s talk: dirt. (Prompt submitted, once again, my my own brain).

I could have been a farmer’s daughter.

My great-grandparents owned a farm in Idaho, near but not quite in the panhandle, where there is a town named “Onaway” because it’s on-a-way to elsewhere. He played on a traveling baseball team part of the year. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse at one point. My dad and his four brothers spent many hours out at their place, forced to bake something every Saturday morning before being released to run through the fields and orchards, chucking rotten apples at each other and jousting on bicycles.

My dad’s first job, around age 14, was working for another farmer, driving tractors and moving big, metal sprinkler poles. The kind with wheels attached. (Google if you don’t know what I’m talking about). He’s the quiet sort, so it didn’t bother him to be out on his own, working in the dirt.

It doesn’t bother him now, either. Though the great-grandparent’s farm was eventually sold and it never worked out for my own parents to buy land and raise animals that would never be slaughtered because we would get too attached to them, he still works in the dirt. Mows the lawn, prunes the roses, plants trees. He hates the heat this time of year (as do I), but he finds being out there, taking care of things, relaxing.

Perhaps the funniest thing he’s done when it comes to dirt and plants was the time he allowed an offshoot from a rosebush to grow in the middle of the yard. Drove my mom nuts. She wanted him to cut it down. He mowed around it week after week, wanting to see what it would do. The fact that it annoyed her was just a bonus, of course.

My mom would always plant geraniums or petunias in pots, lining them up neatly on the stairs that led up to the porch. When I was about 13, I began helping her with the process, learning how to gently spread the roots and place them in deep, soft, wet soil so the plants wouldn’t go into shock. I found it very soothing – me, the not-outdoorsy, doesn’t really like to get dirty person, completely fine with plunging her hands into a bag of potting soil. If my memory serves correctly, one year, I think the last year we lived out on the two-and-a-half acres in the single-wide trailer, I did all of the geraniums myself. They always looked so happy in their terracotta pots, deep green leaves and red blooms reaching for the sun.

I turn to my own plants when I’m feeling anxious. There’s something immensely satisfying about chopping a woody rose cane to the ground. Nothing better than watching the vegetable garden spring from seeds to delicious food. I could do without having to weed, but even that isn’t bad when done in the morning, when it’s cooler, while listening to music or a podcast. I send the ladybug army in to eat all the nasty, destructive little creates. Sit on the back porch and watch the birds flit from tree to tree, the ones that we snagged at a giveaway because we bought our house at the wrong, worst time and had no money to put into landscaping. Admire the baskets hanging from the pergola, fresh vines draping over following a ruthless pruning.

The dirt, and what it produces, is delightful.

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Five Minute Friday: Accept

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Our FMF brother Andrew referenced Crispin’s Feast in the chat tonight. My appreciation for the Bard came late in life (as a matter of fact, just in the last few months, after watching the BBC series Hollow Crown: Wars of the Roses). Up until now my response has has been, in the words of Joey Tribbiani, “Hey, Shakespeare? How about a chase scene?”

Ah, but does it really get any better than this?

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

– Shakespeare, Henry V; Act 4, Scene 3

Kate says: accept.

Go.

It’s hot beverages, scarves, sweatshirts season.

Oh, and boots. Can’t forget boots.

Christmas may be my favorite holiday, but Autumn is my jam.

Pumpkins glow a fiery orange against the muddy backdrop of a near-empty garden plot, their vines fading from the bright green of new foliage to the duller shade of maturity. They are all that remains of summer’s growth. Beans, carrots, cucumbers, onions, peppers and tomatoes all harvested a couple of weeks ago, as the sun began to hint at its diminishing, giving way to cooler temperatures and the barest, cheek-brushing kiss of frost upon the ground.

A pumpkin is nothing more and nothing less than a pumpkin. A seed responds to the rain and the sun and the soil. A process mostly unseen. Held together by the word of God. It sprouts, it grows, it delights, it dies. All as designed by its Creator. It is, of course, not sentient. There is no wrestling with the great questions of life. Without a brain, it cannot worry that it is not as good as a spaghetti squash. It cannot wish to be slim like a cucumber. It cannot throw its weight around to intimidate a carrot.

A pumpkin simply…is.

I have been wondering about God’s love. Truth be told, I’ve not often felt it. Some speak of their hearts being overwhelmed, their souls swimming in Divine affection. Being at least half-Vulcan, I am at home in the mind. I have emotions. I cry (though few have seen it). I have compassion for people who are hurting. But I just don’t speak in the language of “feels.” That part of me is underdeveloped.

It is true that we cannot base our faith on feelings. There are far more mundane days than dances on mountaintops. More opportunities to grit our teeth and choose obedience than bask in the glowy fizz of spiritual hugs. This is right and good. We have to be tough. We have to have grit.

And yet…

God is love, right?

The mind and the heart have to be devoted to Him.

It’s not that I don’t love God. I do. There’s simply a desire for…more. I don’t know what this means. I have asked Him to allow me to experience His love in a way I haven’t before. In a way that will make sense to me. (In a way that will keep me from yelling at the kids loudly playing basketball across the street, kids who should be inside having dinner or doing homework). In a way that will reach beyond the walls and the cherished sins, the dark places we all possess and seek to keep hidden.

I want to live fully in the reality of these words:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

– Ephesians 1:3-6 (NKJV)

Beloved. Dearly loved. Much loved.

Christ, the much loved. Christ, the dearly loved. Christ, the beloved.

I want to feel that love. It is, by right of adoption, mine to have. Mine to experience.

Mine to accept as a gift beyond pricing, for He has accepted me by His love, in His grace, through my faith.

I want to simply be in Him, confident of His pleasure, secure in His affection, at rest, with no fear.

Just as the pumpkin simply is.

Stop.

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