April, Au Naturel

One of my favorite things to do is to get out into God’s creation, go for a long walk or hike, and take my camera along. I was able to do that today for the first time this year and thought I’d share some of my favorite photos from today. I’m not a professional, but I thoroughly enjoy using my camera.

This first one is different from the rest, but I am just in love with it—a beaver’s dam. It was just picturesque.

It’s different from the photos I normally take because I don’t do many landscapes. For some reason—perhaps stemming from my love of antiques—I like to take pictures of old, broken down remnants of the past or close-up photos of nature (even dead nature), like in the series of photos below. (And if anyone knows what the item in this first photo was at one point, I’d love to know!)

I was also working on another challenge from Jenny Randle’s Courageous Creative (I mentioned it in yesterday’s blog, too), this time to take a photo representing 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Honestly, I didn’t find anything on this particular trail that just struck me as the this is it image I had to capture, but I did appreciate being able to think about what that would be—for me, perhaps a mushroom (growing out of the decay of something old—and because for some reason I am obsessed with taking pictures of them, although I know nothing about them and don’t eat them); a caterpillar’s cocoon or a butterfly; etc. The closest I got was this, a photo of the same plant with both an old, dead limb and new growth:

But I chose this one to put the verse on instead—an old tree limb with fresh moss, and in the unfocused background a vibrant, green plant: new growth:

If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

I think both of these depict us—Christians, believers in and followers of Jesus—as we are in this world: the dead part is still there, still visible, still a very real part of our lives. But the new growth is also evident and it is the part of us that is alive, vibrant.

Hunting for just the right photo made me think of how we must die to ourselves to truly follow Christ (Matt. 16:24-25), and all around me was dead vegetation that was giving way to new life, or trees that were reawakening after the sleep of winter, the shedding of their old, dead leaves. In Christians, this is the sanctification process—and I am so grateful that God strips away what is old and dead and gives us this new life, makes (and is making) us more alive than ever before.

Front Porch Musings

This morning, in the pre-dawn hour, I sat on my front porch and looked and listened and wrote. I had a purpose, I had my coffee, and I had my phone’s flashlight to see my notebook when I needed it. My purpose was to complete a challenge in creativity by observing the creativity of the Creator. And when I was done? My soul could not help but to respond in worship, in song. (I’m hoping I didn’t wake my neighbor up.)

The challenge was from day two of Courageous Creative, a study I’m doing with a small group through my church. (For me, this is the continuation of a journey I started a year ago—that’s for another post, another time though.) The challenge was to go somewhere, observe God’s creation, and write using action verbs about what God has done in his acts as the Creator. I read the challenge last night and decided to wait for my favorite time of day and not to go far—my front porch was all I needed. And I bent the guidelines, using the action verbs for God’s creation as well as for him.

God met me there on my front porch, and it set the tone for the entire day: All day songs of his praise have been bursting from my heart, my lips. I’ll share what I wrote with you, and I would love it if you took up the challenge and shared it with me. This post won’t have any photos (it was too dark!), but so much imagery. I hope you enjoy God’s creation as it was this morning through my eyes, my words.

5:43 a.m.

The cool spring breeze
blows strands of hair against my cheek
gently tickling my neck

Rain drops fall singly, together
interrupting the joyful chaos of the birds’ morning song
(but not quite)
(they sing on through the rain)

A single cloud reflects light
but other clouds are there
now pouring out their offerings on the earth—
or are they crying?
Crying in bursts and fits
now sobbing,
soon slowing
trying to wash the earth clean before the new day begins.

The birds sing on
trying to awaken the dawn

The earth soaks in rain
yields its fresh, earthy scent
(smells like worms)

The moon is behind the clouds
smiling with its half face
poking through the holes in the clouds
and pointing the way to the sunrise yet to come.
It is what gives the single cloud(s) its brilliance.
The cloud tried to steal the moon’s light
masking it as its own
but could not compare to the moon
(which does not compare to the sun).

Tree limbs stand stark against the grey
grey of the morning
grey before blue
the Herald
Light is coming.

Lightning plays hide and seek
just out of the corner of my eye
fairy-like, it makes me wonder
was it there, or was it my imagination?

The world outside my door is ALIVE.

The grey gives up the sky
but clings to the clouds
as the earth turns its face toward the sun
(or is it turning its back on the night?)

my dog, my companion
wonders at the early excursion
sniffs the air for remnants of the breakfast
I forgot to share
shakes the lingering raindrops
from her ears

An insect
a speck of black against the bluing sky
flits into and out of my sight
the coffee is warm in my mouth, my throat
and lightning still flirts with my vision
(there? or not? hiding just out of sight?)

Lord, you have done all of this
and it is good.
A hint of orange kisses the horizon
caresses the earth as I retreat
to awaken my sleeping children.

But first, a song bursts forth from my lips,
my heart.

Dog Walking. But Not Really.

I just saw a grown man trying to take a walk down my street. I say trying because what he was actually doing was being pulled down the street by two Siberian Huskies. He was leaning back on the bright yellow, canvas leads they were tied to and trying to dig in with his heels to slow the dogs down with every step, but it wasn’t working. If it hadn’t been for the man desperately trying to keep the dogs from running at top speed, I would have thought the dogs were undergoing training to pull a sled. They were joyfully running along at a good pace, noses to ground, enjoying their time on the 15-foot leads (I’m guesstimating at the length, but those leashes were long).

That’s not what was happening, though. Rather than the man walking the dogs, he was being pulled along by the dogs. The dogs weren’t completely out of control, but they weren’t in the man’s control, either. He was desperately hanging on, digging in, and only one stumble away from disaster.

Isn’t that a bit like life, sometimes?

Life can run ahead of us, dragging us behind. The fact is that we aren’t in control of our lives, no matter how much we wish we were. (Confessed control freak right here.) Things happen. “Circumstances” occur. Things and circumstances there is nothing in our power to prevent. When they are strong, sometimes those things—those “circumstances”—can seem to pull us along and keep us moving at a pace that is one misstep away from disaster. There is a very real possibility that a broken piece of pavement can send us sprawling flat on our faces and leave us scraped up, bruised, and bleeding.

Life can be like that.

But most often, life leaves us a small fragment of control in the form of choices. There aren’t many instances in life when we truly have no choice, no ability to act on our choices, no power at all. Our choices may be limited, yes, and there will always be consequences to the decisions and actions we take, but choices they are.

The man I watched “walking” the dogs had choices. He could have simply dropped their leads. He would have then had to deal with the consequences; the dogs would probably have kept going without him, and then what? He could go after them or simply give up. He could have made a different choice before the walk that I witnessed occurred—did he really have to take them for a walk? He had a choice—but it may have been a choice between letting out their energy through a “walk” and leaving them house-bound and (possibly) destructive. Could he have paid someone to walk them? Paid for a dog trainer to work with him and the dogs? Each choice would come with its own consequences. Perhaps he was the paid dog walker (who may soon choose another job). Perhaps he did pay for a trainer and still didn’t get that walking thing down. He had choices, made them, and acted on them. From my point of view, he was clearly struggling with the consequences of his choices.

Recently, I’ve felt a bit like the leads I’m holding onto in my life are walking me. Rather, making me run behind them. Those leads often have a lot more energy than I do, and sometimes it’s a struggle to hold onto them and keep upright. And the thing about walking dogs is that the more there are, the harder it may be to keep them from tripping up the dog walker and dragging him (or her) on the ground. My leads? I can’t even count them, honestly—there are my family life (or is that smaller ones of wife, mom, housekeeper, cook, chauffeur, gardener, etc.?) and my job; there are those that are ministry-based (production team, theater group, small group) and there are personal pursuits (devotional life, friendships, health, etc.). There are days, weeks, months when all I can do is dream of letting one, two, three leashes just go.

A girl, a mom, and an Oscar in front of an Oscar Night banner.

When leads collide and overlap: I got to take a quick pic on the “red carpet” with my daughter, before my stint as a “co-producer” of a show for the theater group at my church, which really ended up being a glorified name for running graphics—one of the things I do occasionally for the production team at church.

Letting go, and facing the consequences.

Because there would be consequences.

Some I would never dream of letting go, but others? A girl can dream, can’t she?


Here’s the crux of the problem for me, at least. I may dream of letting a lead go, but after months of praying I honestly still don’t know which God wants me to drop. I know what I dream of dropping, but is that just me? Is that my selfish desire? That keeps me holding on, praying for God’s clear direction in my life. Sometimes—especially lately—it feels like I’m dragging further and further behind those dogs and getting closer and closer to tripping. I keep asking, but so far there hasn’t been a bright pillar of fire or large cloud in the sky.

I did get a star to follow, though. Turns out it’s been there for a while and I just haven’t been paying attention. I’ve been looking for something bigger, something brighter. It took a teary confession about what’s on my heart to a friend and her offer to pray with and over me to open my eyes to it, but finally God twisted my head around to see it. Or—in terms that will stop mixing my metaphors—God finally hit me over the head with a lead that was already dangling in my face and let me clearly see two others that he gave me and are already in my hands, one of which I’ve been neglecting. He didn’t turn one bright yellow yet and say, DROP THIS ONE, but I still have my hopes up.

Those three leads? Three things he has given into my hands, to be responsible for, beyond the “given” of family, for me? Those are the three I need to pay attention to now, to be faithful with. Along with letting me finally see them, God gave me a renewed sense of strength and purpose for them.

One of them is this blog. He prompted me to start that, to write and to share about him in January. So I did.

One of them is my book project. This is the one I have barely had a hold of since last fall, because of time. But God gave it to me, has blessed me through the process of researching it, has blessed others through that same process. I can’t let it drop; no matter how long it takes, I need to finish it because it’s part of the work God gave me to do.

The last one? It’s new. Not what I expected, since I thought for sure I would have to drop a lead before picking up a new one. But that’s one thing about God: He doesn’t think like we do (Isaiah 55:8-11), so things rarely turn out like we expect. The last one is to start a writer’s group at my church. Like I said, the idea’s been dangling in front of me for a while now and I’ve said, That would be cool, even mentioned it to some people who were very supportive, but then not actually grabbed hold.

Until today.

Today, I grabbed hold and started making plans. And even though these plans are in the initial stages right now and the first meeting may be (will probably be) months from now, I’m excited. Excited to see what God can do when I run alongside him following his leads.

I won’t lie—I’m still very, very curious about how God’s going to work all of this out. Because I can’t see how on earth I’ll be able to hold onto everything, and the logical part of my mind tells me that, eventually, God is going to clearly tell me which lead I can drop. Then again, it’s not really an earthly matter when one has a heavenly perspective. And it’s not my strength, but his (2 Corinthians 12:9). And—if I don’t stand in front of him—he’ll step in and accomplish his work through and in me when it would be otherwise impossible, humanly unexplainable.

So dropping something to hold onto those other leads he’s given me? Yes, that would be my plan. But God is full of surprises.

For those of you who stuck with me through this blog post, thanks. I know it’s long-winded (which, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll probably realize I tend to be) and in that sense breaks the blog genre rules. Writing it has been a revealing, clarifying, and therapeutic process for me, and that feels almost selfish. But I’m hoping and praying that at least one of you will see something God’s trying to show you through this post, too. Every week when I write I hope and pray that this is the outcome—that God uses this to glorify him, to touch hearts, to encourage others.

I’m also writing this end note because I’m coveting your prayers. For the moment, the question of which or whether to drop a lead doesn’t seem as urgent as it did this morning, or as it has over the last few months. But I know the worry will begin to creep in again when I feel especially out of control, and I do still want God to give me clarity about what to do. I also ask that you pray that I accept God’s will rather than try to force my own, that whatever leads he has me keep and let go of I will do what he asks willingly and run behind those leads—his lead—wholeheartedly for him.

You may also want to say a prayer for the man with the dogs. He’s been down the street a few times in the past couple of weeks and things don’t seem to get any better for him. ;)