The Big Orange X

I have noticed a new arrival on my road lately. Big orange x-es are appearing on the old maple trees. Those who know me or follow this blog 001know that I have a soft spot for trees. I love their ability to overcome hardship and damage as well as their peaceful acceptance of the seasons.

This marking happens every year and always makes me sad. These are the trees the county has decided are too old and ill to survive. They have become a hazard to the road below and the ugly black wires that stretch from pole to pole.

We can’t have them shedding limbs and stopping traffic or bringing down the wires now can we?

It doesn’t matter if the trees were there first. It doesn’t matter that they have been standing there tall and strong for 100 or 200 years. They are a liability.

007Now I know that there is truth to that. The marked trees have lost much of their former glory. Halfway up, jagged stumps remain where the main trunk had been lost to a storm or lightning a decade ago. Often there are only a few branches that still produce leaves, and those are growing sparse. The bark is rough and split with dead wood showing through. They are dying.

But I remember them as they were 30 years ago when my family moved onto this farm. They were at their prime and there were so many more of them back then. They lined the road every fifty feet or so. They were the home to thousands of birds, squirrels and chipmunks . . . not to mention the occasional raccoon and possum families. In the fall, the road became a glorious bower of red and gold splendor.

The family we bought our farm from told us some of the history of the area. They had lived here for generations, since the 1800’s at least. Our004 farm began as a small cabin at the base of a nearby hill. The hard working farmer who first settled here soon built a larger place where the house currently stands. It started as two small rooms and has expanded several times so that it can now hold my sister’s family and my own.

That same farmer was wise enough and compassionate enough to plant these so that his horses would have shade as they toiled along the dirt road. The fields were wide open by necessity, but the roads to and from was thick with cool, refreshing shade. The trees fulfilled their purpose long after teams of horses gave way to tractors and trucks. More than 100 years later they continued to stand guard over five young girls riding their bikes or walking 1/4 mile to the nearest house to play with the children who lived there.

So many times I would climb into their spreading boughs when the world became a hard place to live. I would go high as I dared and cling with my ear pressed to the trunk. There I could hear the creaking and sighing of the ancient tree. It seemed that it was talking to me, if only I could understand the words.

Now there are few of my old friends left. One by one they have fallen to the storms of the world or that dreaded orange X. The sunlit street is lined with new homes. Children no longer ride their bikes or walk in the road . . . with cars whizzing by without thought or care it is no longer safe.

Time marches on and everything must someday fall to its command.

I still hate the big orange X.

The other day when I was thinking about those trees marked for execution, my thoughts strayed to the Great Gardener. Perhaps if someone had tended to those old trees, they may have survived longer. If someone with skill had trimmed the diseased and damaged branches, had kept away the strangling vines, the trees would have been strong enough to withstand the storms.

Jesus said that he was the vine and we are the branches. (Israel doesn’t have much in the way of maple trees.) He knows how to tend to his branches to keep them healthy and strong. He prunes and binds, trims and trains so that we become all that the Father meant us to be.

He does not paint big orange X’s on us when we become old and weak. He tends us and loves us until time wins its battle. Then he takes us home where we are planted by streams of living water to become forever young, forever strong and forever with him.

 

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Seasons of Change

I’m not as young as I used to be. I know that may come as a shock to some, but it it true. Middle age has caught up to me. I keep telling myself that I will grow old gracefully, that I will embrace the changes to come. But I still find myself fighting each wrinkle, each gray hair and each new ache in my body.  I cast sly glances toward my sisters and friends; are my wrinkles deeper, do I have more gray under the fresh coat of color? How old to I look compared to them?

It’s sad but true. I am vain. I can’t seem to help it.

Today I went for a walk. The fall colors are at their peak and the weather is supposed to be wet and windy for the rest of the week so I wanted to enjoy one last autumn walk. I walked to the hill behind my house. I have enjoyed the colors from my windows, but today I wanted to be out among the blooming trees. I walked along the edge of the field where trees formed the boundary between our land and a neighbor’s. I had not walked that trail since . . . well, it has been a long time. What I found humbled me.

The border of trees was barely 50 feet wide, but inside that limited space, the trees had survived and grown old. All along the field, I found trees that had survived against all odds.

Forgotten Fence

 

 

In their younger years, the trees had doubled as fence posts holding up barbed wire fences. The fence and whatever it had held were long gone. All that remains is the wire, rusted and broken. The trees had grown around it and made it an irremovable part of itself.

Other trees had been damaged by wind, rot and lightning. Yet contorted, scarred and shattered, they still live and even thrive.

Is It DeadThis tree looked dead when I walked up to it, but when I walked to the other side, a single branch  projected from the trunk. That single branch was too big for my hands to wrap around. Supported by its neighbors, that single branch flourished. The Living Branch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I saw so many trees that bore scars and wounds. Far more than were whole and sound. Each one was unique. Each one accepted its imperfections and lived

Strong Survivor5 Strong Survivor6 Strong Survivor3 Strong Survivor2 Mismatched Couple.2 As I walked, I learned their silent lesson. We are all scarred, all imperfect. We all have wrinkles and gray hair, (or will someday). We can take the parts of life that cause us pain, embrace them and with time, love and effort, we can turn them into something that makes us beautiful and one of a kind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each one of these trees, although horribly scarred still lifted their branches to heaven and shared their beautiful colors with the world.

 

 

 

 

Strong Surviver

Now I See

I love fall. I think it is my favorite time of year. My love affair with Autumn probably got its start because my birthday is in fall. All those years of anticipating parties, presents and cake affected my mind. Now, even when I can’t say I look forward to that proof that I am no longer young, I still love fall. Now it has more to do with clear, crisp days, bright colors and frosty nights.

Sometimes I stand outside in the warm golden sun, and wonder what it would be like to not see the glories of the changing seasons. What if we could not see the faces of our loved ones, the obstacles on a crowded street? Those questions and a hundred more led me to write the story of Bartimaeus.

I drew in a deep, spice-scented breath and took a step, then another, stepping wide to miss the open drain. Hadar’s hand slipped a bit, but he tightened his grip and held on.
The clamor of the market was disorienting. I could barely hear the buzzing echo but I continued to shuffle forward. No longer sheltered by the wall, people brushed against me on all sides. With every step, my heart pounded harder. I held my hands out before me, hoping to encounter anything that might help me find the way to safety. All I could feel was the shifting wall of people. My fingers touched rough material and smooth skin. A strong hand grabbed my own and twisted.
“Watch it, old man.” The deep voice snarled above me. “Are you trying to steal from me? Trying to take my purse?” Another hand gripped my throat. Hard calluses scraped against my skin as a strong hand lifted me off my feet. I gasped for air, clawing at the hand that held me.
“Bartimaeus, where are you? Don’t leave me!” Hadar sounded terrified, but I could not offer comfort. My feet twitched as I dangled. The man holding me aloft dropped me. I collapsed to the cobbled street and lay gagging, trying to force my bruised throat to work.
“You are fortunate that I don’t want blood on my new robe, thief, or you would be dead. If I ever see you again, it will be the last time. Now go.” Something hit me in the ribs, further hampering my efforts to breathe. Small hands helped me to my feet. Hadar sobbed quietly in my ear as we stumbled a few steps. Laughter broke out around us and we fell to the ground again.
“Come on, thief, try to take my purse.” A sandaled foot connected to my hip, agony stabbed down my leg. More blows fell; I couldn’t tell if they were from hands or feet. I huddled on the ground trying to protect my head and belly from the blows. Dimly, I heard the sounds of a wounded animal whimpering. The sounds came from me.
“Stop, he is not a thief. We are trying to get to the gate.” Hadar was still there his voice shrill and scared. I wanted to tell him to run and hide lest they turn on him next. How was the boy to find a safe spot? Was anywhere safe?
“To the gate? A beggar then!”
“Come on, beggar, are you hungry? Here’s some fruit for you,” something wet splatted on my head, the juice running down into my ear. The smell of overripe melon washed over me. More rotting fruit and bits of spoiled meat rained down. Anguish and humiliation like I had never known raged through me.

coverRead the rest of Bartimaeus’ story in Now I See, an e-short sold on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O4CWK3U  This story is free to download until Tues. Oct 7 after that it is still a bargain at $0.99. check out my other e-shorts The Gift of Her Son and In His Right Mind.

Read the Directions

I am one of those people that likes to buy new gadgets. I can’t often afford new toys, so when I can, it is a big deal. I bring them home, giddy as a kid on Christmas, and I unpack it right away. I read the instructions enough to put it together and start it up then set the booklet aside.

No worries, I can figure it out. And I usually can, at least the basics. I will refer to the book once in a while if I need a clue. It just takes too long to read the whole thing through.

A few weeks ago, I found out why you are supposed to read the whole thing.

I bought a camera about 3 years ago. It is a very nice camera and I get some great pictures with it. It has a long zoom and high pixel count and I have enjoyed it, carrying it around with me every time I leave the house. A few months ago, the display screen was really dark when I tried to frame a shot. Oh well, it is a few years old and the screen might be going bad. They just don’t make things like they used to. I can deal with it. And I did deal with it, using luck and instinct to take pictures that I couldn’t quite see. some of them even came out well. Then the screen went bright, washing out the colors. Hmm, that’s weird.

I dug the instruction book out of the bottom of a box of other discarded instruction books and hunted to see if there was something I could do to change the view screen.

There was, and a whole lot more besides.

Wow, this camera can do THAT?

I was amazed at all the features of my camera that I had been missing for years. I mourned lost opportunities and bad pictures that could have been saved if I had just known . . .. Now my pictures are more beautiful than before with a whole new range of possibilities.

But wait, there’s more . . .

I bought Photoshop at the same time that I bought the camera. Again, I started it up and have used it for years making my best pictures even better. But I didn’t read the instructions. How hard can it be anyway? I figured out how to tweak lighting and colors to bring out the best in the pictures.

We have seen a lot of publicity on Photoshopped pictures lately. Pretty women become flawless, cool landscapes become surreal art and so much more. Hey, I take some darn good pictures. I have Photoshop. Why shouldn’t I try some of those cool effects. The trouble is, I didn’t know how. So back to the instruction book and online tutorials. These were less helpful if only because the possibilities with Photoshop are nearly endless. I did get some good ideas of where to start though, so I began playing around and experimenting.

Wow. I have a new addiction. I have always wanted to be an artist and paint the pictures in my head but my fingers lacked the talent. Now, with my camera and a computer program, a whole new world of art has opened to me.

As I sat down to write this post, God tapped me on the shoulder. (He’s been doing that a lot lately)

Hey, Kate, Guess what . . . I gave you an instruction book, too. It’s sitting right over there on the shelf.

I look. Yep, right there where I left it the last time I checked some wording for one of my stories. My Bible. I haven’t  picked it up to really study it for a long time. I know the basics, enough to get on with life anyway, right? I have studied it through my teens, 20’s, 30’s . . . well you get the idea. I know it pretty well already.

Do you really know Me enough? Maybe I have something new and fresh to say to you, did you ever think of that?

Well, I guess. I did learn new stuff about things I thought I knew. I can give it a try. If my camera and Photoshop have hidden gems, I can only imagine what God might have hidden in the book He wrote. Maybe it is time to dig in again.

Dreaming Fairy

Where reality gives way to fantasy and art.

Family Jewels

I just returned from a weekend outing with my husbands family. His parents recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They didn’t want a big party or expensive296 gifts so we (their kids and their families) kidnapped them for a ‘quiet’ weekend. We rented some cute little cabins in a tiny campground deep in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania. There, far from our TVs, computers and phone signals we were able to connect on a deeper level than other recent get-togethers.

I have been blessed with wonderful in-laws. My husband’s parents spent forty-three years serving in Chad, a country torn by poverty, war and political unrest. Their three sons were raised in a culture far different than what I have known. I married the oldest son almost 21 years ago and have learned a great deal from his different perspective.

This past weekend some things came into crystal clear focus for me.

305My children who sometimes struggle to fit in with other kids, click seamlessly with these cousins. My husband, who is an extreme introvert, was able to relax and communicate with the few people who can truly understand where he comes from. Even I, who am only related to these people by marriage, have always been accepted and loved as one of them.

I was able to connect with my two 17yr old nieces as well. We talked and found that although we are decades apart in age, our love of reading and writing are ageless. We all struggle with the need to express ourselves while battling the insecurity that makes us hesitate to offer up what is crying out to be shared. That is a war that many writers face everyday. I am hoping we can continue to keep in touch from our different corners of the country and encourage and strengthen each other for a long time.

This weekend has become a precious jewel in my memory. One to be taken out and polished and cherished whenever I am feeling lost and alone. This family is a handful of gems with each facet adding its own glint of light, its own sparkle of joy. I am blessed to not just have my own family that I love, but a second family as well, a family that offers a whole new outlook on life.347

Surviving Trouble

Sometimes life seems just so overwhelming. Finances, strained relationships, stress on the job and so much more all take a toll on us. Some days I want to stand in the center of a crowded mall and scream until they cart me away to a nice, safe rubber room. Other days I want to stay safe in my bed, pull up the covers and dream it all away.

149 (2)But we can’t do that, life insists on grinding on and if we are not careful, it will grind the life and joy right out of us. How can we do that, you may ask? Life is hard and those financial, relational and work stress-makers aren’t just going to go away because they are bad for us. Of course not! We can choose, however, whether or not we will let those things turn us into zombies, going through the motions but without life.

“Yet man is born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward.” Job 5:7

Ever been to a campfire and a jab with a stick sets off an eruption of sparks? Do any of those sparks fly downward? Nope, they all leap toward heaven, set free from the tongues of flame that seek to devour them. They escape for a time, but all too soon those bright spots of life die into grey ash and fall back to earth. Coals are different. They don’t seek to escape, but use the heat of the flame to feed their own glow. In fact, the coals will live long after the flames are gone.

“For in the day of trouble, He will keep me safe in his dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle.” Ps 27:5

When coals are buried in ash, they can continue to smolder for days. How do I know this? One of the first warm nights this spring, my family had a bonfire. It was lovely with sparks flying up, logs flaming  brightly and coals glowing contentedly. 3 days later, my husband was mowing the lawn and needed the chairs out of the grass. Without thinking, I piled the chairs in the fire pit so I wouldn’t have to cart them very far. The ashes were grey, there was no smoke or sign of heat, but guess what, when he came to that part of the lawn, the chairs had become a towering pillar of flame. I guess those coals were still alive under there somewhere. (Moral of the story, don’t assume that where there is no smoke there is no fire . . . or coals anyway)

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

Ah, here is the secret, trust in the Lord and allow his peace to fill you. Sounds good, but how do we do such a thing? It is not easy, I still struggle on a daily, even hourly basis. It takes practice, practice and more practice. I think one of the verses that helps me the most is one Paul wrote to the Philippian church.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is praise worthy-think on these dewy peony1 dry brushthings.” Phil 4:8

What you focus your mind on has a direct impact on your attitude. Sure life is tough, it doesn’t really matter what our circumstance is, rich or poor, fed or hungry, alone or surrounded by the best of friends, we all have trouble of some kind. If you focus on the hard things, they will fill your mind and spirit with bitterness, anger and discontent. If you focus, instead, on the good things around you, no matter how small, the peace that Jesus promised us will have the chance to grow and spread. Our lives will be better for it.

Embracing the Chains

singing treeI went for a walk in the woods last fall and came upon an old maple tree that I fell in love with. It looked like it was singing praise to its creator. I took a picture of it and keep it on my wall near my computer. This spring I returned to those woods and found my friend the singing tree, it still looked happy and green with the promise of new life. But this time, I  approached the tree from a different angle, and noticed something new. At the base of this happy tree was a tangle of barbed wire. The rusted wire had likely used the tree as a convenient support as it kept some farmer’s cows safely contained. The fence had disappeared with no other sign of posts or wire in sight. Why had this mess of barbed wire stayed? Because the tree had grown around it. It had embraced the chains that had once bound it.

We all have chains that try to tie us down, to fence us in, to strangle us. For some of us it is poverty, for some it is sorrow, fear or resentment. Many of us have survived sickness, addiction, abuse and injustice. We all have chains, but what will we choose to do with them?

Christ came to earth to break those chains. He came to set us free and give us life in abundance if we accept his gift.

A few months ago, I believe God sent me a picture during worship at church. We were singing ‘Break these chains’ and I saw myself in a dark dungeon with my wrists shackled and chained to the wall above my head. I had given up and hung my head in despair. Christ stood before me. He had broken my chains. The thing that bound me was nothing but shadowy illusion. It was my own fear and doubt that kept me chained in that dungeon. Jesus was imploring me to step away, to follow him into a life of hope and joy. I would like to say that I have shaken the chains and left that dark place, but I am still battling those fears. I just know now that He is with me and will not give up. embracing the chains4

It was after that moment with God that I found the tree that rejoices despite its chains. Jesus has set us free of the chains, the wire embracing the chains2surrounding the tree had been cut away from other posts long since gone, but the scars remain. The scars of our past, of our present don’t go away. They help to make us who we are. It is up to us to embrace the chains, the scars they leave behind and the God who is bigger than all that would hold us back.

I choose to acknowledge my weakness and fear. I choose to let God work through them. I choose to not let the fear and doubt hold me back, but will grow around them and beyond them. It will not be easy, the barbs in the wire hurts, but I choose to leave the dungeon and find the hope that Jesus promised.

 

embracing the chains3embracing the chains1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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