April Snowflakes

One way to cope with April snowflakes is poetry. So here’s a little poem I wrote a few years ago for “Poetry Day” in our homeschool.

Winter’s Last Kiss

Winter came back for a kiss good-bye,
Tossing snowflakes in the April sky.
‘Oh my, oh my!’ little children cry!
‘No, not again,’ frowning grown-ups sigh.

But the joyful birds – steadfast to sing,
Tweet, chirp and trill – such sweet songs they bring.
Robin, finch, and blackbird with red wing,
Add voice to the glad chorus of spring.

Let’s send off showers of April snow,
Thankful for a cup of hot cocoa.
Farewell, winter! Far away you go!
Green grass, green leaves – come and grow, grow, grow!

Because His Love is Better

“He gives snow like wool; He scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down His crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before His cold?” —Psalm 147:16-17

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Some days the complaints about winter weather pile up faster than snowflakes around here. Grumbling comes easy when the outside air hurts my face and my hands are dry, cracked and bleeding. Weariness and discontentment can deepen as I clear the driveway and sidewalk.

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But someone has kindly pointed me to Psalm 63. And the words in verse 3? They melt me.

“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.”

Can my dry, chapped lips glorify God while they grumble and complain about the cold and snow He sends?

Can my heart truly believe that His steadfast love is better than life? Why does my heart doubt His goodness in sending the weather?

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“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.”

I put on these words and wear them close, like a layer of Under Armor insulating my prone-to-wander heart.

Then I take a walk in the fresh snow.

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I stop now and then to take a picture. Fresh air and photography help me re-focus my heart and be more watchful of His goodness, His grace, His love. Each beautiful flake of snow is worthy of pondering closely.

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“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

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God is always good and His steadfast love endures, even the thermometer reads -31 degrees F like that Sunday morning back in December.  And even when it’s -31 degrees, I can still be thankful and trust the One who sends that cold. Because the One who sends the cold, He is the One who provides what I need to keep warm. Warm socks, hot tea, fire in the fireplace. He provides. And His love never fails.

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“For to the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, His mighty downpour.” Job 37:6

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“By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast.” Job 37:10

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Another day I walk across the lake. And walking on water, albeit frozen, tests my faith. I’m inclined to question every step, but God reminds me to trust Him.

“Let me hear in the morning of Your steadfast love, for in You I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to You I lift up my soul.” Psalm 143:8

Trust builds with each thank-You prayer. So I thank Him for the sunshine and fresh air. I thank Him for a quiet morning. I thank Him for guiding me step by step.

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In the marsh, the cattails capture a soft, shiny glow in their fluff.

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And there on the frozen lake the light catches on the flakes, and the snow sparkles — as if someone has scattered little diamonds across it, shiny little treasures waiting to be found.

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“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.” Psalm 63:3

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8 Books I’m Thankful For

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Outside my kitchen window, a dapper little junco tap dances around the new little lilac bush we planted on Mother’s Day. The leaves on the lilac are still green, but the bush is surrounded by a small heap of dry brown leaves that blew off the maple tree on the other side of the yard.

It’s the first week of November. Soon the branches of all the bushes and trees will look thin and bare. Soon Daylight Savings Time will usher in shorter days. And soon that lonesome north wind will howl in the night.

Beauty in nature is hardest to find in Minnesota November. And if I linger too long thinking about my least favorite month, I will easily slip into complaining and feeling discontent. But then the calendar reminds me Thanksgiving is coming. And is it too corny to say I am thankful for Thanksgiving? Because I am grateful my favorite holiday falls during my least favorite month of the year.

I appreciate that Thanksgiving brings not just a delicious feast with my family around a dinner table overflowing with food, but also a rich, joyful feast for my soul as I count my blessings throughout the month.

Through the dull, gray days of November, I see that God’s grace still abounds with every breath I take. And God’s Word reminds me (yet again) that I need to keep speaking the language of thanks. Praise and gratitude should forever be on my lips, not just because it makes my soul joyful, but also because giving thanks glorifies Jehovah Jireh, the LORD Who Provides. He is indeed the Giver of every good and perfect gift.

To help ring in the month of Thanksgiving with that attitude of gratitude, I have for you a little list of eight Thanksgiving-themed books that I have loved reading aloud with my family. I am thankful for these books because sharing each of them with my kids has been a blessing I’ve counted — sometimes more than once.

1. Almost Home: A Story Based on the Life of the Mayflower’s Mary Chilton by Wendy Lawton

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This is a well-researched, 140-page chapter book in the “Daughters of the Faith” series. It relays the story of 13-year-old Mary Chilton, who also sailed on the Mayflower and bravely begins a new life in Plymouth. I especially appreciate how this story begins with the persecution these believers endured before leaving for America, as that really puts their situation into context. I also like the brief but very helpful glossary of unfamiliar terms in the back. I suggest this book for youth in upper elementary grades and up.

2. Over the River and Through the Wood: A Thanksgiving Poem by Lydia Maria Child

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I immediately fell in love with this picture book when my sweet friend Carla read it as part of a November story time for homeschoolers at the library one year. Of course, a few lines of the poem were already quite familiar to me, as they likely will be to you. But how delightful to have the entire poem as well as fantastic woodcut art to illustrate it! This is a treasure for all ages.

3. A Light Kindled: The Story of Priscilla Mullins by Tracy M. Leininger

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This nicely illustrated, 60-page chapter book tells of the faith and courage of Priscilla Mullins, who was 18 years old when she sailed to America in the Mayflower in 1620. As one of only four women who survived the Pilgrims’ first winter, Priscilla endured many hardships and relied on God for strength through loss and trials. I suggest this one for school-aged kids and any younger person who will listen to chapter books. I am sad to say this one is out of print, but check your library or used book sites like Thriftbooks.com.

4. The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh

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This charming picture book on Thanksgiving was published in 1954, and it received Caldecott Honors. Alice Dalgliesh is one of my favorite children’s book authors, and I like that she includes a tidbit about the wash day the Mayflower women had shortly after arriving at Plymouth. Clean clothes are indeed something to thank God for! Can you even begin to imagine how disgusting those clothes must have smelled after that lengthy ocean journey and all the illness on board? Ugh!

5. Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson

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When my dear friend Julie read this picture book two years ago, she right away knew that I would love it because it is a true story about the first female magazine editor in America. With an informal and humorous tone, the book explains how Sarah Hale used her pen to “save” Thanksgiving by arguing for it to be a national holiday. Like me, you may have to forgive Mrs. Hale for also arguing against pie for breakfast. I mean, why should we not eat pie for breakfast? This one is great for all ages.

6. The First Thanksgiving by Linda Hayward

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When my daughters were learning to read on their own, this “Step into Reading” series was a great fit because the stories and illustrations are well done. I like that this early reader about Thanksgiving was well-researched and informative.

7. Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller

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Written in rhyming verses, this newer picture book about a family cooking their Thanksgiving feast feels like a familiar old friend. It is short, catchy and simply delightful to read. Plus the illustrations are just so quaint and darling that I can almost smell the turkey in the oven.

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8. An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott

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The text for this 32-page picture book comes from what originally was a longer story published in 1882, so the content has been significantly abridged and adapted. Usually that would deter me. But the illustrations by James Bernardin are so captivating I could not resist this version of the book, and I found the story is still quite worthwhile. The book’s length is ideal for all ages, and older students also might enjoy comparing this version to the one illustrated by Michael McCurdy.

Happy November and happy reading, my friends!

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Watchful and Thankful

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” 

-Colossians 4:2

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On this beautiful October day, I am thanking God for all the evidence of His glory that surrounds us in nature and for the many gifts He’s given this past week.

I am thankful for a quiet hike through the woods.

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I am thankful for the leaves above glowing all golden in the warm sunshine.

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I am thankful for the leaves below that softly crunch as our boots shuffle through them.

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I am thankful for the cute pair of just-the-right-size rain boots a dear friend gave to my youngest.

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I am thankful for the cheerful Black-Eyed Susans still in bloom.

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I am thankful for the fallen tree that makes a good resting spot.

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I am thankful for the little collection of leaves my oldest carefully gathers up to treasure.

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I am thankful for the lemon-verbena that smells oh-so delightful.

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I am thankful for the dazzling dahlias in bloom.

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Oh, the dahlias make me smile big!

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I am thankful for bright orange pumpkins and bright-eyed girls with big smiles, too.

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I am thankful for our annual family outing to the apple orchard.

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I am thankful for the girls’ favorite wagon, Lacie, and all the memories it holds.

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I am thankful for the delicious harvest of apples to fill our pies and dumplings.

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I am thankful for the pumpkin patch nearby and determined pursuers of perfect pumpkins.

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I am thankful for God’s amazing creation and how it points to His goodness and glory.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:17

 

Finding God in the Hard Times

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One Sunday morning 11 summers ago, I stood in the auditorium with our church family singing together the worship song “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt and Beth Redman. I shuddered with fear when we sang the boldest line, “You give and take away, My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be Your name.”

Did I really believe this? Would my heart trust God with this tiny person growing inside me? I knew that God had given her to me, but what if He chose to do the unthinkable? What if He chose to take her away before she was even born? Would I still be able to bless His name? And would I continue to trust Him with the sweet but fidgety little two-year-old blonde that my husband held beside me as we sang? What did it really mean to bless God’s name anyway?

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Looking back over the last decade, I see God’s faithfulness as our family has walked down various roads marked with suffering, trouble and loss. In His great grace and faithfulness, God has blessed me with the gift and responsibility of being a helpmate for my husband and mothering these two precious girls, now ages 10 and 13.

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Through every phase of family life, God continues to teach me what it means to trust Him with all my heart in the hard times. He continues to show me how to be watchful and thankful and how to praise Him for every blessing He pours out. And God continues to minister to me through the words of Matt Redman’s music and writing.

Earlier this spring I was delighted to hear that Matt and Beth Redman have just published a second edition book called Finding God in the Hard Times: Choosing to Trust and Hope When You Can’t See the Way. It’s a concise book, only 123 pages, but it’s powerfully written.

Each of the five chapters is titled with a phrase directly from the lyrics of the worship song “Blessed Be Your Name,” and each chapter is reinforced with many quotes from Scripture as well as three brief but meaningful questions for reflection. The book is an excellent resource for individual study or for a five-session group study because the appendix features a discussion guide for small groups and a complete listing of Bible references for further meditation.

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One of the things I like best about this book is how it is both inspiring and practical. For example, in the first chapter the Redmans write about what they call “spiritual motion sickness,” which they describe as “living in the tension of what we think we know to be true, and the deep pain that seems to contradict it.” Pointing to truths in Lamentations 3 and Psalm 13, they offer these wise and practical remedies for building your faith and fanning the flames of worship when you’re in such an unpleasant condition:

“The key is to reinforce what deep down you know to be true, by adding extra revelation. Spiritually speaking, roll down the window and stick your hand out. Open the Bible and feed upon the truths of God and His faithfulness. Strengthen your understanding of His ways as you read. Find encouragement in the lives of those who chose to trust His power, grace, and purpose amidst their darkest hours. Look over His track record in your own life and in the lives of those you know to love Him. See how often He has poured out the oil of kindness in times of trouble. How on many occasions He has rescued seemingly at the last possible moment — or turned around something that at the time seemed like it could never lead to fruitfulness… The discipline of remembering helps us keep a grip on hope and find our way on the paths of praise… Remembering releases rejoicing.”

This is a book I will likely re-read, and I anticipate reading other books by the Redmans, including The Heart of Worship Files.

Please note: In exchange for this honest review, I received a free copy of the book from Bethany House Publishers.

 

 

This Day is Golden

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The warm October sun shines vibrantly through our maple tree’s leafy red flags, cautioning me that winter is just a few miles ahead. The season is changing quickly, but I want to play traffic cop. I want to make it park right here next to this red octagon at the end of the street. Stop. Just s-t-o-p. Stop the clock already.

But so many of the other maples are waving their brilliant, glowing yellow flags at me as I drive by. “Slow down!” They cry. “Slow down, pull over, look up and enjoy this beautiful day.”

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The earth keeps spinning, and I suppose time is still going as fast as it always has, from one season to the next.

So why do I feel dizzy? Why do I feel like we are spinning and speeding from one week to the next in a racing blur of activity? In my dizziness, it seems I forget where we are going and why.

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I study my young dancers. These dancers, they spin and twirl and they don’t get dizzy because they fix their eyes on something that isn’t moving. A focal point.

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Yes, Hebrews 12:2. I need to stop spinning in distraction and fix my eyes on Jesus. He’s the steady, immovable One, and His love for me never changes. Colossians 3 says Jesus is seated above at the right hand of God, and that’s where I need to set my heart and mind — on things above.

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Looking up I see that’s where every good and perfect gift comes from. The Father of Lights, He sends these gifts down to us, and unlike the golden leaves on the maple trees, He never changes and He never leaves us.

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So yeah, dancers don’t get dizzy because they know where to focus. And dancers know where they are going because they count. They count the time in each measure of music so they can move with the music. Not way out ahead of it. Not far behind it. With it. To stay with it, they must count.

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So when did I stop counting each day’s gifts? Because counting the gifts from above, the joys, the ways God loves me, that’s what helps me keep in step with Him. That’s what helps me remember where I am going and why. That’s what slows me down.

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Ann Voskamp’s wise words taught me the only way to slow down time.

“Life is not an emergency.

And this, this is the only way to slow down time:

When I fully enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here.

Weigh down this moment in time with attention full, and the whole of time’s river slows, slows, slows.

In this space of time and sphere, I am attentive. I am aware. I am accepting the whole of the moment, weighing it down with me all here. This giving thanks for one thousand things, it’s that too, an invitation to slow time down with weight of full attention.” -Ann Voskamp

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Lord, the leaves glow a golden yellow and this day is beautifully golden! Thank You for making this day. Thank You for reminding me that this day is frail and fleeting. Help me slow down. Help me give this day the weight of my full attention and help me love those around me with my full attention.

Thank You for the vibrant fall colors that reflect Your glory. Thank You for these memorable moments with my lively little girls playing in the leaves, dancing in the autumn sunshine and strolling off to their piano lessons. Thank You for Your steadfast love and great faithfulness. Amen.

 

 “This day we’re given is golden; let us show love. This day is ours for one moment; let us sow love. This day is frail – it will pass by. So before it’s too late to recapture the time, let us share love, let us share God, before this day is gone.”  — from Point of Grace’s song “This Day”

 

Winter’s Last Kiss

It’s “Poetry Day” in our homeschool, and it is snowing. Again. In April.

So here’s the poem I wrote after sipping what I hope will be my last cup of hot cocoa for a long while.

Winter’s Last Kiss

Winter came back for a kiss good-bye,
Tossing snowflakes in the April sky.
‘Oh my, oh my!’ little children cry!
‘No, not again,’ frowning grown-ups sigh.

But the joyful birds – steadfast to sing,
Tweet, chirp and trill – such sweet songs they bring.
Robin, finch, and blackbird with red wing,
Add voice to the glad chorus of spring.

Let’s send off showers of April snow,
Thankful for a cup of hot cocoa.
Farewell, winter! Far away you go!
Green grass, green leaves – come and grow, grow, grow!