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

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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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Spring Break

065 (6)Ah, those word invoke visions of young bodies on warm beaches drinking in the sunshine. School is out for a week and frazzled college students pack their bags and head south for a glorious week of stress-free playtime before having to come back to face the last push at the end of the semester.

At least I assume that is what it is like.

I have never had a Spring Break like that.

Nope. My spring breaks have mostly consisted of yard work, spring cleaning and maybe, if I am lucky, a picnic lunch in a newly green park near home. I have never felt the loss. Being an introvert, the thought of crowded beaches, mobbed theme parks and packed bars made me shudder. Add to that the stereotype that all the young bodies belong to  ‘beautiful people’ intimidates me beyond belief. True or not, that stereotype has kept me safely home for decades.022

This year is no different. Instead of sprawling my out-of-shape-middle-aged body on sun-warmed sand, I am raking debris out of the yard and gardens. I am listening to the joyful laughter of my teenage kids as they play together, the battles and frustration of winter melting like snow under the warming sun. All around us the world is returning to life, bulbs are beginning to bloom, new green grass is emerging from the brown of last year’s growth and the air is filled with the songs of birds returning to their summer homes.

020I am not so good at the spring cleaning inside. It often takes me until fall to get that done. But the windows are open and warm fragrant breezes flutter my curtains. The floors are swept to clean up the mud tracked in by happy kids and dogs (not to mention the copious amounts of hair from two shedding labs!) But then the warm breezes and sunshine lure me outside once more.

So while warm sand and crashing surf are nice, I would not trade my Spring Break at home for any beach in the world.

 

 

Endless Winter

“Grandpa, what is Spring?” The young boy looked up from his book, a puzzled expression on his face.

“What do you mean, Josh?” Grandpa peered over the tops of his reading glasses.

“Well, this book I’m reading talks about Spring and has all these pictures of stuff I’ve never seen.” Josh lifted his book high so that Grandpa could see the colorful pictures. Grandpa leaned closer squinting just a little. A small sigh escaped his lips.

“Come over here, boy, and lets have a look.” Josh stood up from his pillow near the fire and climbed onto his grandpa’s lap lugging the big book behind him. 001He opened the book to the first page where “Winter” was written in fancy silver script.

“See, Grandpa, here is the part about winter, I know all about that.” Josh turned several pages until the word “Spring” appeared written in pale green. “This is the part I don’t understand. What are all these colorful things on the first page?”

“Josh, those are flowers. See, this little purple one is a crocus, then the tall yellow ones are daffodils and the red ones are tulips.” Grandpa stroked his fingers gently over the smooth pages. “Those flowers were the first ones of the growing season. They meant that Spring was really here.”

The boy looked up into the wrinkled face of Grandpa. “Were they really that pretty?”

“Oh yes, and they smelled good, too. There were lots of kinds of flowers and in all shapes and sizes.”079 (4)

“Hmm.” Josh wasn’t sure he believed Grandpa, but didn’t want to be rude and say so. “What are these things here?”

“Those are trees.”

Josh looked closer. They kind of looked like trees, at least he could see the sturdy brown trunks and there were some pine trees he recognized.

“But what is the green fluffy stuff on top of them?”

“Those are the leaves. They come out in the Spring, give us shade all Summer then turn bright colors in the Autumn before they fall to the ground.” Grandpa leaned back in his chair and stared into the flames dancing in the fireplace.

“How come I have never seen things like flowers and leaves.” Josh stared up at Grandpa, checking for that little grin that told him that his grandpa was teasing. “Are you sure you are telling me the truth, Grandpa?”

“My boy, it is because you were born in the time of Endless Winter. It was the year that Spring never came, nor Summer nor Autumn.” Grandpa turned to look 022out the window at the bleak landscape, nothing but snow, ice and frozen trees as far as the eye can see. “Someday, Spring will come again and you will see.”

“Will it be in my lifetime, Grandpa?” Josh looked excitedly at his book once more. What would it be like for real and not on a page in a picture book?

“I hope so, boy.” Grandpa settled back and stared at the fire once more. “I hope so.”040 (9)