Let Heaven and Nature Sing!

Joy to the world! The Lord has come

Let earth receive her King!

Let every heart prepare Him room

And heaven and nature sing!

Joy to you this Christmas!

00ChristmsCard2015_8BY6BLOGGY

Nature sang in 2015 as God blessed us with many memorable outdoor adventures like snowshoeing,

midwinter 070x

snow skiing,

IMG_0226x

ice skating,

teaANDice125x

boating,

upnorth 495x

swimming,

20150612-DSC_5950-X2

and hiking.

DSC_0972x

We delighted in God’s amazing creation while watching Trumpeter swans on the Mississippi River,

gloriousSwans 133

spotting dolphins in the wild in the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston,

texastrip 433x

texastrip 448x

feeding wood ducks in the backyard,

canyoucanoe 021x

backyard 046x

gazing at the gorgeous lilacs

grandmashere 029x

and the dazzling dahlias at the Arboretum,

danceANDarbtrip 070x

being wowed by a pair of red foxes up on the Gunflint Trail near the Boundary Waters,

upnorth 628x

and admiring some of the 18 baby snapping turtles that hatched in our front yard flower bed.

00turtle_appledays 061x

00turtle_appledays 066x

We tried to subdue some of God’s creatures during our too-close-for-comfort encounters with a snoozing nighthawk,

birdwatchin 067x

bandit raccoons,

racoon 005x

a sleepy bat, an angry squirrel, a peeping goldfinch,

00peep 016x

a topsy-turvey mama snapping turtle, a strong-minded chipmunk and a brave back-to-school mouse that trapped itself inside our basement wall! Eeeek!

We also marveled at God’s wondrous creativity while gazing at the brilliant autumn colors,

fallfunonphone 092

fallbreak 0680128x

picking juicy apples,

appledays 157x

appledays184xxx

and plump pumpkins,

fallfunonphone135x

and most recently, while picking a lovely-smelling balsam fir tree to decorate for Christmas.

00AFAV_DSC_0052x

00AFAV_DSC_0062x

Romans 1:20 says,“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–His eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Nature clearly points to its wise and powerful Creator. And that lighted Christmas tree in my living room, it points heavenward, toward the Light of the World.

00AFAV_DSC_0086x

It points to Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

May we all join heaven and nature in singing our praises to Him this Christmas and throughout 2016!

Merry Christmas!

 

Advertisements

Whiter than Snow

Reposting from the deep down in the archives… Happy Good Friday and Happy Easter!

snowbunnies1.gif

Except for a few small patches, nearly all of the snow that had been covering our lawn since Dec. 1, 2007, melted earlier this week. We all rejoiced to be finally rid of that old snow; it had turned ugly and gray over the last three months.

On Wednesday Linnea was able to ride her bicycle and play outside all afternoon. Laurel blew bubbles and scooted around on her trike. Neighbors we hadn’t seen in months came up the street to chat. The hope of spring that had sustained us through this long, bitter winter was finally becoming a reality!

But today it’s a different story. It’s Good Friday and the first full day of spring according to the calendar. But just like Jesus’ disciples felt on Good Friday, we’re feeling confused and discouraged. It’s snowing. Actually, it’s blizzarding. We must have nearly six inches of fluffy white stuff out there right now, and it’s still piling up! We’ve lost a little hope.

So what does snow have to do with Good Friday? After David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan came to him and encouraged him to repent of his sins. David wrote Psalm 51, and in verse 7 he says to God, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”

Likewise, Isaiah 1:18 says “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

All week I’ve been reminding Linnea and Laurel that Easter isn’t about brightly colored eggs or tasty chocolate bunnies. It’s about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. It’s about Jesus paying the blood sacrifice so that we, like David, can be made whiter than snow.

So even in the midst of a March blizzard, we still have hope. We have hope that spring will arrive and the rain will wash away our snow. The grass will reappear and turn green. The birds will return. The trees will bud and the flowers will bloom.

Though our hope for spring may come and go, our hope in Jesus will continue. He cleanses us and gives us a fresh new beginning. He will not disappoint us. He is risen indeed!

How Hair Nets Bring Joy

Blessed are the heads wearing hair nets, for they help pack food for the hungry. Isn’t there a verse somewhere that says that?

I’m kidding of course. But yes, that’s me wearing a hair net. And I wore it joyfully because blessing others is itself a blessing. Serving in Jesus’ name and showing God’s love to the hungry is a joy. It’s a joy because, as Ann Voskamp says, “…while I serve Christ, it is He who serves me… It’s the fundamental, lavish, radical nature of the upside-down economy of God. Empty to fill.”

Empty to fill.

On Saturday our family — plus an 8-year-old friend and minus our youngest daughter — emptied to fill. We emptied our Saturday schedule and filled the morning with this special project. We emptied any pride we had in our hair-dos and filled hair nets with our hair. We filled boxes and cups with rice and soy nuggets. And then we emptied the cups and boxes to fill meal bags, which eventually filled boxes, which eventually filled pallets that will ship overseas to fill the stomachs of some of the 12 million people who are starving in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

According to the head of the United Nations Relief Agency, these countries in the Horn of Africa are experiencing the worst drought since the 1950s. The land is empty of food. It is the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.

Our family and some dear friends volunteered alongside dozens of volunteers from our church and two partner churches, under the direction of Feed My Starving Children. This nonprofit hunger-relief organization provided all of the food, supplies, equipment, expertise and experience for the packing sessions.

The food we packed was a unique combination of chicken, veggies, soy and rice. Food scientists developed the special formula to include easily digestible protein, carbohydrates and vitamins. It’s a healthy, nutrient-rich meal to fill empty stomachs and satisfy more than hunger pains.

During our two-hour shift, volunteers at our particular location worked together to pack 27,864 meals. That’s enough food to fill the tummies of 76 children for a year. Each meal costs only 24 cents. By the end of the day, our site had packed more than 112,000 meals.

What’s more, volunteers from several other partner churches were also packing meals throughout the day on Saturday, under the direction of Feed My Starving Children and two other hunger-relief organizations: Kids Against Hunger and ImpactLives. This vast effort was called The Hunger Initiative. Altogether in just one day, approximately 4,000 volunteers from 11 churches gathered in eight locations across Minnesota and packed 1 million meals to send to the hungry in the Horn of Africa.

One million meals.

That’s a big number. But here’s an even bigger number: 1.02 billion.

That’s how many undernourished people live in the world today. More than 1 billion.

One in six people worldwide suffer from hunger and malnutrition; it is the number-one health risk and is more prevalent than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Hunger.

Isaiah 58:10-11 says,

“Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as the noon. The LORD will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.”

Want to become the blessing? Want to let your light shine? You can feed the hungry by supporting the mission of Feed My Starving Children in a variety of ways — and only one involves wearing a hair net.

  • Pray for the millions of starving people around the world and for FMSC’s ability to serve them.
  • Volunteer to package meals.
  • Donate online (just 24 cents pays for one meal).
  • Purchase FMSC merchandise from their Online MarketPlace. One t-shirt buys 45 meals!

May God fill you with joy in Him as you love and bless others, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (1 John 3:18)

“The servant-hearted never serve alone. Spend the whole of your one wild and beautiful life investing in many lives, and God simply will not be outdone. God extravagantly pays back everything we give away and exactly in the currency that is not of this world but the one we yearn for: Joy in Him.” -Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

Show Me Something Glorious

Today is Good Friday. The calendar also says it is Earth Day. 

So shall we cry “Save the Earth!” or will we proclaim “Jesus Saves!” — that’s really the question.

Whom will we worship today? Will we worship the Creator of the universe? Or will we worship the creation?

Don’t misunderstand me. I marvel at God’s creation and feel strongly about being a good steward of it. When I slow down to accept and enjoy what God has created, I learn so much about His character. 

“Show me something glorious and I’ll show you the Maker of it all.”

-“Something Glorious” by Revive

Romans 1 talks about how God’s creation makes plain to all men God’s eternal power and divine nature. Looking all around us, seeing what God has made, we are without excuse for believing in God! He is the One behind it all.

Yet mankind is foolish. We fail to see Him. We fail to glorify God, we fail to give Him thanks, and we exchange “the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” (verse 23) We worship false gods.

Oh, Father, forgive us. Forgive me.

How many times have I exchanged the truth of God for a lie? How often have I worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator? (verse 25) 

In “A Christian Response to Earth Day,” Doug Phillips at VisionForum says:

…man’s problems will never be solved through the elevation of human reason, the power of science, or the interventions of the state. Nor will rescuing the biosphere of planet earth save man or ensure him a future on this planet. You cannot save the earth. But human beings can be saved. And the only hope of salvation is found in Jesus Christ — the Creator! It is this Creator through whom we live and breathe and who by the very power of His word holds the worlds together. He will someday establish a new heaven and a new earth and will bring all of His people into Glory.”

And in “Why God Created the Universe — for Good Friday, Pastor John Piper explains:

The universe was created for the glorification of God’s grace at Calvary.”

With the shedding of Jesus’ blood on Calvary, our sins have been forgiven. As David Crowder sings, there is grace enough for us and the whole human race! Oh, happiness! And oh happy day! He has washed our sins away!

So let’s thank God! Let’s rise up and dance our shoes off!

21 Lines from One Thousand Gifts

A Book Review:

One Thousand Gifts 

It’s a few minutes after 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, just under 48 hours since my much anticipated copy of One Thousand Gifts arrived in my mailbox, and I just finished the last page.

I hadn’t intended to plow through it so quickly; I’m certainly not a speed reader. But the book is powerful. It merits a second or third read, which I will do while taking part in the online book club at DaySpring that begins in a couple of weeks.

I am so eager to share my thoughts about the book with you. But first let me say this. A week ago in our small group, I mentioned that God has given me three words for this particular time, three words that He keeps putting up as holy billboards along my spiritual path as I read and study His Word. Those three are: the Word, grace and servant. And yet again, through One Thousand Gifts, God is using Ann Voskamp to reveal so much to me about His Word and grace and being a servant. Thank you, Ann, for serving with your words.

That said, what’s the book about? Well, Ann took on a friend’s dare to list one thousand gifts from God. Written down by hand. This inventory process, this counting of blessings, revealed to her Whom can be counted on, and it profoundly changed her life.

In the book, she shares some of that gift inventory and weaves in many of her life experiences and struggles for joy. Some are raw and heartbreaking. Some are poetic and magnificent. All are real and honest. Throughout the telling, Ann vividly illustrates how grace and thanksgiving lead to joy and the full life Jesus came to give her — and all who believe in Him.

Ann has contemplatively weighed each word of One Thousand Gifts as a skillful painter mulling over each brushstroke. Collectively, her words become a true masterpiece — inspiring humility, encouraging gratitude, challenging ingratitude, and pushing readers on to trust God, to serve Christ and to experience life more abundantly: joy in Him. 

What I love about Ann’s writing is how descriptive she is and how she carefully crafts her stories to tie in the everyday ordinary — like dirty laundry and mud-tracked floors — with extraordinary spiritual insights. I also love that her writing overflows with quotable, memorable lines.

So, here are 21 of my favorite lines from the book:

1. “On every level of life, from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgment and efforts to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur.”

2. “Life is dessert — too brief to hurry… I want to slow down and taste life, give thanks and see God.”

3. “Darkness transfigures into light, bad transfigures into good, grief transfigures into grace, empty transfigures into full. God wastes nothing — ‘makes everything work out according to His plan’ (Ephesians 1:11).”

4. “…suffering nourishes grace, and pain and joy are arteries of the same heart — and mourning and dancing are but movements in His unfinished symphony of beauty. Can I believe the gospel, that God is patiently transfiguring all the notes of my life into the song of His Son? What in the world, in all this world, is grace? I can say it certain now: All is grace.”

5. “All beauty is only a reflection. And whether I am conscious of it or not, any created thing of which I am amazed, it is the glimpse of His face to which I bow down. Do I have eyes to see that it’s Him and not the thing?”

6. “How we behold determines if we hold joy. Behold glory and be held by God.”

7. “The truly saved have eyes of faith and lips of thanks.”

8. “The art of deep seeing makes gratitude possible. And it is the art of gratitude that makes joy possible. Isn’t joy the art of God?”

9. “Christ incarnated in the parent is the only hope of incarnating Christ in the child — yet how do I admit that people made in the Image can make me blind to God, my own soul contorting, skewing all the faces?”

10. “Feel thanks and it’s absolutely impossible to feel angry. We can only experience one emotion at a time. And we get to choose — which emotion do we want to feel?”

 11. “But the secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is.”

12. “And trust is that: work… Are stress and worry evidences of a soul too lazy, too undisciplined, to keep gaze fixed on God? …Isn’t joy worth the effort of trust?”

13. “Anything less than gratitude and trust is practical atheism… I can’t experience deep joy in God until I deep trust in God.”

14. “Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with planks of thanks. Remembering frames up gratitude. Gratitude lays out the planks of trust. I can walk the planks — from known to unknown — and know: He holds.”

15. “All gratitude is ultimately gratitude for Christ, all remembering a remembrance of Him.”

16. “Instead of filling with expectations, the joy-filled expect nothing — and are filled.”

17. “While I may not always feel joy, God asks me to give thanks in all things, because He knows that the feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving.”

18. “The demanding of my own will is the singular force that smothers out joy — nothing else.”

19. “My own wild desire to protect my joy at all costs is the exact force that kills my joy.”

20. “It’s the astonishing truth that while I serve Christ, it is He who serves me.”

21. “The servant-hearted never serve alone. Spend the whole of your one wild and beautiful life investing in many lives, and God simply will not be outdone.”

I’ve read the phrase “All is grace” at the end of Ann’s blog posts. I’ve probably read it more than a hundred times. And now I am starting to understand. All is grace. All is grace.

Ann, how you have blessed. Thank you! And please know that I thank God for you! You’re on my list!

10 People Who Inspired Me in 2010

 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24 NIV

About a year ago, I shared in this post how friends of ours had spurred me on toward love and good deeds. As I reflect on 2010 and continue to thank God for their friendship and encouragement, I thought it’d be fun to share some other sources of encouragement and inspiration that might just inspire and encourage you, too.

1. My husband, Michael, always inspires me, and for so many reasons. In August I blogged about 15 reasons why I love Michael. I should also note that in the first three months of 2010 Michael lost 65 lbs., and he has kept them off! Yay! But of more significance than his weight loss are his spiritual gains in 2010. He has clearly grown closer to the Lord  — through prayer, Bible study, and Scripture memory — and that truly inspires me! What a blessing to have a strong spiritual leader in our household.

2. Our pastor, Steve Anderson, is a wonderful, encouraging pastor, as well as leader of the small group in which my husband and I participate. In November while he was serving as a short-term missionary in Nicaragua, I blogged here about how thankful I am for Pastor Steve and his lovely wife Sharon. They are truly wonderful people who bless us each week. When he returned from Nicaragua, Pastor Steve told us an amazing story about handing out baseballs and Beanie Babies to the children there. God performed a miracle that day! You can listen to him tell the story if you click here. It starts at 19 minutes into his sermon “Whose Stuff is All This Anyway?” By the way, you can find out more about short-term missions and adopt-a-pastor opportunities in Nicaragua by visiting Repairers of Broken Walls.

3. Andreas Custer is the Student Ministries Director at our church. He’s a great guy, and while our family doesn’t yet have any students in his ministry, his contagious passion for the Lord and inspiring manner spills over and touches our family regularly. After visiting Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields this fall, Pastor Andi preached this really dynamite sermon about fixing our eyes on Jesus in the same way soldiers fix their eyes on their battle flag. The key Scripture passage he used was Philippians 3:7-21, and he explains that those who have their eyes set on earthly things, in contrast, are enemies of the cross.

4. Karen Wistrom at Family from Afar is a working mom with four children, two biological and two adopted, and is a child sponsorship coordinator for Children’s HopeChest. Besides raising money for all sorts of orphan-care projects, she traveled to Ethiopia this fall — for the third year in a row — to minister to orphans at Kind Hearts, where our sweet Dawit is. Thanks to Karen, we were able to put together this little care package for Dawit in August, and then a couple of months later Karen sent us pictures of Dawit receiving it. Yay, Karen! 

5. Samantha at Little Goody 2 Shoes is an 11-year-old who is selling bottle cap necklaces to raise money to buy shoes for orphans in Ethiopia. We bought a few of them that say Kind Hearts, and they are so adorable! To date, Samantha sold 314 necklaces and raised enough money to buy 103 pairs of new, custom-made shoes for orphans at Kind Hearts and two other orphanages in Ethiopia. Way to go, Samantha!

6. My own daughter, Linnea, at the ripe old age of 7, decided to donate 11 inches of her hair to Locks of Love in February. She was so brave and so passionate about giving to a little girl in need. That was a lot of hair!  

7. Author Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience is a farmer’s wife, homeschool mother of six, and an amazingly gifted writer. She faithfully uses her gift for God’s glory. I am so eager to read her latest book, 1,000 Gifts, which will be released Jan. 25.

8. Writer Holley Gerth at Heart to Heart with Holley is another writer whose words transcend into the spiritually inspiring realm. She also faithfully uses this gift to point others toward God.

9. My beautiful and sunshiny friend Alice, who recently moved to our little town, totally inspires me to be a better mom and to more intentionally play with my kids, especially while they are still willing to play with me! Alice is outgoing, full of life, and truly a fantastic cook and baker. All those traits come in handy as a stay-at-home mom to three handsome and energetic boys, all under the age of 5! While the girls and I were over for a visit last week, Alice gave us all flashlights, turned off the lights, and asked us to hunt for stuffed animals that had been hidden around her kitchen and living room. This “jungle-safari” version of hide-and-seek was great fun! Thanks for being so wonderful, Alice!

10. And last, but certainly not least, is Jodi, another beautiful friend of mine who inspires me to be a better mom and not neglect my creative side.  Jodi is a tea-drinking homeschool mom of five children, ranging in age from 1 to 13. She also teaches art, jazz, and tap dance lessons. My daughter is in one of Jodi’s art classes and adores every moment of it. If I were to write a biography about Jodi, I’d entitle it Everybody Loves Jodi. She is creative, encouraging, sweeter than pie, and everybody loves her! Last I checked she wasn’t sporting a red cape, but she is truly a super woman, empowered by God. 

Now I’m shutting my laptop and heading off to play Little People with my 5-year-old, so it’s your turn to share.

Who has inspired you in 2010? Do tell!

A Quiet, Simple Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve and I have time to blog because we have no family visiting this Christmas, and no relatives nearby expecting us for dinner.

Of course family isn’t really what we celebrate at Christmas anyway, as much as we dearly love all those grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins who have decided against braving a frightfully White Christmas in Minnesota.

No, Christmas is about Jesus, celebrating Him and worshiping Him. Sometimes it’s easier to remember that when Christmas is simpler, quieter, and settled comfortably in a picturesque, snowy white background.

Every year our little family of four worships at our church’s 4 p.m. Christmas Eve candlelight service. The girls love getting all dressed up for the evening. Most years my husband participates in the worship band, playing guitar and sometimes singing. This year he also played the mandolin. The music was beautiful. Reverently the service closed, as is tradition, with everyone singing “Silent Night” by candlelight. Seeing my children’s hopeful faces glowing in the candlelight, that’s my favorite gift.

Back at home, with the pot roast still simmering in the slow cooker, the girls endure posing for a few photos.

 And then they ask — for the 100th time today — if they can open presents. They typically exchange gifts with each other on Christmas Eve. Perhaps someday when they are grown and have families of their own, this tradition will continue.

At dinner we light all five of the Advent candles, and the girls eagerly lead our discussion the story of Jesus’s birth. Linnea wonders about all the many details the Bible doesn’t tell us in this ancient story. A deep thought for an 8-year-old.

Once the dinner dishes are cleared, I mix up some bread dough and tuck it under a towel, letting it rise. The girls like to think of the dough as sleeping when it is rising, so they tell it “goodnight” and blow it kisses. I tell the girls it’s almost time for me to tuck them into bed, too. Already sporting their matching striped pink pajamas, they beg for a story. Of course, I was already planning to read one. 

Tonight we read Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck. Written in 1956, the book was a gift given to us last year by my dear friend Kate. And what a lovely story it is about a son who gives his father, a dairy farmer, a gift they both treasure for years to come. Be sure to read this heartwarming tale!

Next my husband reads the story of Jesus’s birth from Luke 2 and Matthew 1. We talk about favorite Christmas memories and the best gifts ever given or received. Then we ponder together what it would have been like to see Jesus as a baby. My husband decides he’d want to see the angels that appeared to the shepherds and the glory of the Lord that shone around them. Five-year-old Laurel is still pretty sure she doesn’t want to have anything to do with angels. (Click here to read about her recent angel trauma.) Will we ever convince her that real angels help protect her?

After prayers comes bedtime for little girls, and then comes stocking stuffing, cinnamon roll rolling and gift arranging for us grown-ups. As the evening closes, the tree boasts way too many gifts beneath its boughs, and all through the house the smell of cinnamon rolls lingers. 

This is our quiet, simple Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas!