Giving Thanks for the Now

Autumn brings us an array of changing leaves. What do you think of when you see the reds and oranges, and yellows? Beauty, for sure.

This season, I’ve also been more aware of how short a time this breathtaking palette will be here for us to enjoy. By the time we see the green turn to yellow or orange or red, the decay is inevitable. The turning from green is a signal that the leaf is dying on the branch. Soon all the changing leaves will lie on the ground, to be replaced in spring with a new crop of tender green. Now, for these few short weeks, we see this contrast of the dying against the still-green living.

We learn about this cycle in grade school and we expect it. For some reason, though, this year I keep thinking about how we need to savor the colors now.

Here’s how Scripture puts this: “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” This has been a refrain for me this autumn. This year has brought uncertainties both welcome and difficult: a job layoff and a new job, grandchildren starting school, major illness in the family. No need to live in fear of the future, though. Instead, we can look around today and focus on the amazing. Look now, while the beauty blazes. Number this day as memorable.

What’s in your world now that you want to savor this season? What are you especially thankful for this week?

Linking up with Sweet Shot Tuesdays and Texture Tuesdays. Texture used is And Then Some, provided by Kim Klassen.

*Photos were taken at Palomar, California; Concord, Massachusetts; and in the Berkshires, Massachusetts.

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Finding Beauty in an Aquarium

An aquarium is a feast for our eyes.

You’ll find bright blues, reds, and yellows and in the ocean.

Fish come in stripes, too.

Different kinds of fish swim in the same tank, in different directions, without lanes or
stoplights. Why don’t they collide? I don’t know.

Jellyfish are beautiful.

The sea holds scary creatures.

The sea holds fragile creatures. Some seahorses grow to only half an inch long. Seahorses
wrap their tails around vines or branches or coral reefs to keep from being swept away by
currents.

The Creator has quite an imagination.

So do the folks who have named sea creatures. Here’s a small sampling.

I’m happy in an aquarium. An aquarium is a good place to wander with friends and family and oooh and aaah over the various sea creatures.

It’s like sharing a “visual meal.” Standing at the last exhibit, I was joined by a young man about 10 years old. He told me to be careful if I ever met a lion fish in the water because they sting. I assured him I would be very cautious in those circumstances. Then he summed up his visit to the aquarium: “Very good show. Good show indeed!” I agree.

Do you live near an aquarium? Have you visited lately? What sea inhabitant do you find most amazing?

Linking up with Sweet Shot Tuesdays.

*All photos were taken at the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla, CA.

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Digging In When You Want to Give Up

Need a shot of perseverance? Try meandering through the recreated village of Plymouth, originally built by Pilgrims in 1620. You’ll get a clear picture of what it is to stick it out when it would be easier to give up.

The Pilgrims of Plymouth are famous in the annals of American history. They arrived on the Mayflower after months at sea. The fact that they made the arduous journey is not why they are known to us, though. Groups of Europeans came before them and groups came after. The Mayflower passengers were just one of many boatloads of folks landing near present-day Boston.

The difference was that this group of adventurers stayed where they landed for the winter. They didn’t get back on a boat and return to Europe. Instead, they dug in and settled.

You can visit today and meet “actors” who dress as Pilgrims and talk like Pilgrims and work as the Pilgrims did. You can immerse yourself in their world for a few hours and see life from their eyes.

You learn that the first winter was not kind to the Mayflower Pilgrims. Of the 102 who landed, 45 died. Did the rest of them get on the first ship to dock that spring and flee back to safety? No, they refused that option. They persevered through another winter and another. Children were born and the village grew.

They stayed on the shores of the new land and built their wood houses and fences so they could be free to worship God the way they saw fit. They taught themselves to farm so they could survive.

It’s a life of spareness and hard labor. Homes are gray on gray. Men repair roofs and build ladders and chop wood.

Women prepare dinner. Raise chickens. Do laundry.

Books are a rare luxury.

This young man scoffed when I asked if he spent lots of time sitting outside. “No, we work. I’m just taking a short break. We’re usually tending to crops and fixing fences and hauling water. We can’t just sit here!”

Are you living in a gray, tough place? Are you tired of having to learn something new? Just plain tired? Are you wanting to get back on the boat and retreat to safer shores?

Maybe you’re in winter now but spring always comes. It did for the Pilgrims and it will for us, too.

Linking with Sweet Shot Tuesdays.

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Good Reads: The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This is a story showing — not just telling about — the power of words. Through words, strong cords of love form in the midst of a war relying on the power of might and beatings and bombs. Do words triumph? Yes. Death may come, but not before words shape life and give it meaning and become a vessel to share what’s in a heart.

The book focuses on a young girl, Liesel, who lives in Munich with foster parents during WWII. She learns to read with the patient teaching of Hans, her new Papa. It turns out she not only loves books but writes beautifully, too. Her love for words literally saves her life when she escapes the devastation of a night raid because she can’t sleep and is up writing instead of lying in bed.

The beauty of The Book Thief lies in the many characters we get to know. We see them arguing, stealing, cursing, withdrawing. We also see them treating each other with grace, generosity, and goodness. They are people at their worst and best.

Here’s an example. Liesel’s family runs for the shelter when air raid sirens go off in the night. “Even from the cellar, they could vaguely hear the tune of bombs.” Adults shook with fear and children wailed and chaos reigned. “Liesel opened one of her books and began to read. She spoke it aloud to help her concentrate.” One by one, those around Liesel began listening to her read. “Soon, a quietness started bleeding through the crowded basement. By page three, everyone was silent but Liesel. For at least twenty minutes, she handed out the story. Only when the sirens leaked into the cellar again did someone interrupt her. ‘We’re safe,’ said Mr. Jenson. Liesel looked up. ‘There are only two paragraphs till the end of the chapter,’ she said, and she continued reading with no fanfare or added speed. Just the words.”

The Book Thief reminds us that not only can words calm but they are also seeds that grow. They can build up and encourage. They can build a bridge between any two people.

One of Liesel’s friends called her “The Word Shaker.” How about we adopt this title for ourselves today? How will you use your words? How can you speak or write encouragement to someone who is in a dark basement today? They may be distracted by sirens and dread. You may need to keep on speaking until quiet bleeds through. Maybe your words today can serve as a small block in building a bridge of friendship. This challenges me. How about you?

A few notes:

*This book is classified as a Young Adult novel. I don’t know why. Don’t let that discourage you from reading it. The subject matter and vocabulary are sophisticated.

*The book’s narrator is Death. You may like this literary twist. I found it mostly distracting, but the beauty of the story shines through.

*This novel is rich in layers of story and populated by many multifaceted characters. It will haunt you long after you read the last page . . . .

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A Promise in the Bends and Twists

In the thick of the forest . . .

forest

. . . have you ever noticed that some trees grow bent?

bent tree

Some trees lean, looking like they may topple to the ground.

Leaning trees

Young trees fail to reach directly skywards.

young tree

Established trees display a decades-old curvature of the spine.

old tree

Some start out well but something happens and they turn.

turn

Others grow up reaching for the sun without wavering to the north or south, east or
west. The trunk is solid. This, we think, is the ideal. This is a true tree.

true straight tree

Our lives are like these trees. We take different paths — curves, distinct bends,
maybe just leaning a bit from true up.

This season I’ve been rehearsing for a concert of Messiah, one of the most
creative musical works our culture has given us. One song quotes Isaiah
40: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.”

These trees on display in the forest on a fine fall afternoon made me think of that song. One day all the crookedness of our lives will be made true and pure; the rough will be smoothed out. It’s hard to see that today. We need faith to imagine such a time. When I look at my own bent, curved “trunk,” I hang onto this faith. I believe.

How about you? Do you believe God can redeem the bends and twists of our lives?

tall tree

Linking up with Sweet Shot Tuesdays and Texture Tuesdays. Texture used is “And Then Some,” provided by Kim Klassen of Texture Tuesday.

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Inspiration from the Concord Bridge

Do you ever feel discouraged into inaction? Afraid to tackle something because it
seems mundane in the face of a greater problem?

The North Bridge in Concord is known in America as the site of the beginning of the
Revolutionary War in April, 1775.

Concord Bridge

British soldiers marched from Boston to this farm town in the middle of the night to seize “Ammunition, Provision, Artillery, Tents and small arms” collected by the colonists. Their goal was to arrive in Concord “with the utmost expedition and secrecy” but, as even today’s schoolchildren know, Paul Revere raced on horseback to warn the colonists that the British were on their way. Instead of being surprised, the colonists were prepared.
They gathered in the darkness on the high ground above the town, just over the
bridge.

A guide told us that these colonists did more than huddle in apprehension of the
approaching British troops. They went to work that night in the best way they
could figure out to defend their families and their homes. This is what they
did: The farmers dug holes in the dirt, something they needed no training to do.
They buried weapons and ammunition in the field near the bridge. The British
couldn’t seize what they couldn’t find. Here’s the field today.

Concord field

The countryside is placid and quiet.

Concord River

Is your life calm and peaceful? Or do you wait in the dark, knowing trouble is approaching, unsure of what to do? It’s easy to be paralyzed by fear in the night. Maybe there’s
something you can do — something to prepare, something to dig, something that’s easy but effective — while you wait for the dawn. Small acts may require great bravery.

The war would last for years; freedom for America has always come with cost. The
work of those colonists in burying and thus saving their arms was only a beginning, but how significant an action it was.

North Bridge

Is there something you could start on today? What can you do that may make an
inestimable difference?

Concord River and bridge

Linking up with Texture Tuesday, hosted by Kim Klassen, who supplied the beautiful textures for these photos.

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Good Reads: Learning from the Serum Run

The Cruelest Miles by Gay and Laney Salisbury

Need encouragement to just keep on doing what you need to be doing for  another day? This book may be just the story to inspire you.

A diphtheria epidemic breaks out in Nome, Alaska in February, 1925. Medication is urgently needed, but blizzard conditions prevent delivery by air. The result is an epic effort by mushers and their dogs as sleds race across snow and ice with the precious serum.

Relay teams of dogs and drivers run day and night, covering 674 treacherous miles. Temperatures of 65 degrees below zero are recorded along the way. Sightings of the sleds are daily news as the nation follows the drama.

The authors convey the life-and-death undertaking in heart-pounding detail. In one leg of the journey, musher Leohnard Seppala attempts to cross frozen waters
when he hears a crack and realizes he and the dogs are floating on a block of ice out to sea. Nine hours later, his ice raft drifts towards a floe jammed against the shore. Five feet of icy water cascade between the team and the
floe. The plan: Get the lead dog Togo to the other side so he can pull the two chunks of ice together. Seppala “tied a long towline to Togo’s harness,
picked him up, and hurled him across the open channel. Once on the other side,
Togo dug his nails into the floe and lurched toward shore. The line snapped.
Togo spun around and looked back across the chasm at Seppala. The line slipped
into the water. Seppala was speechless. He had just been given a death
sentence. As Seppala stood staring across the lead at Togo, the dog dove into
the water, snapped the line up into his mouth, and struggled back out onto the
jammed-up floe. Holding the line tightly in his jaws, Togo rolled over the line
‘until it was twice looped about his shoulders’ and began to pull. The floe
started to move and Togo continued to pull until it was close enough for
Seppala and his teammates to jump safely across.”

On the seventh day of the run, the final relay team glided into Nome and delivered
the antitoxin. Every glass ampule of the serum arrived intact. The epidemic was
beaten.

The dogs of the last leg of the long journey were led by Balto. Today you can see a
sculpture of him in New York in Central Park. You can view an animated film
about Balto. What you learn by reading this researched account of the run is
that Balto ran a relatively short distance. Togo ran much farther in more
extreme conditions. He saved Seppala’s life. He should have garnered renown as the hero. Instead, the medals awarded to Togo hang around Balto’s neck in the bronzed version of the serum run.

The dogsled teams gave their all, risking their lives to save others. Fame proved fickle, but at the time no one thought of anything beyond the task. One musher summed it up: “I wanted to help.”

Seppala and Togo. Photo Credit: Ralph Morrill

Some days we may think we do our daily tasks and no one sees. We feel hidden in life’s snowy dark trails. This book reminds us to grab hold and wrap the figurative lifeline around our shoulders and dig in. Someone in our lives depends on this. That’s reason enough to keep on pulling.

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