Thursday, July 31, 2014

Summer Camp

Each summer of my pre-teen and early teen years I attended church camp in several different locations. The experience was similar at each one. I was a shy little girl so attending camp where I didn't know anyone else was really a stretch for me, yet I went back several times. Now I realize how important those camps were to my faith life. They gave me a place to practice sharing my faith with others and to learn from watching others share theirs.

There were the usual craft times, songs around the campfires, caring counselors, swimming, sunburn and mosquito bites. I think church camp was where I discovered my love of nature and where I learned that worship in nature came so easily. The peacefulness of God's surroundings made it easy to talk to God and sometimes hear His response. The beauty all around sparks a desire to praise God with all my heart.

Church camp taught me to fellowship with others, to laugh and cry together, to share heart to heart. I found acceptance even though I was a timid, gangly teenager. I discovered that God loved me too, just as I was. I learned to search the Bible for answers and direction and to turn to it often. The counselors became mentors for that week and when I returned home I was a different girl because of the acceptance I received and the new friends I made. For months afterward I would exchange letters to the one or two special friends I connected closely with. Sometimes we even met again the following year.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned at church camp was how to encourage others and to be encouraged in faith. It's a valuable tool I still need to remember.

"Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25 NIV).

Monday, July 28, 2014

Focus on Today

It's a new week and almost a new month, and if you're one to really look ahead, it's almost a new year. Slow down. Today is enough to concern yourself with. Today alone needs to be my focus. How many times have you spent time planning for something that didn't happen? I'm not a big worrier anymore but I do like to plan ahead, but my nature of procrastination makes me a better last minute planner.

As a writer I've found I do my most efficient work when on deadline. If I try to work ahead too far, I come up empty of ideas. It seems the closer the deadline, the better I think. Whether it is procrastination or not, I find that when I'm most dependent on God - as in desperate need of an idea - that's when God gives me the words or thoughts I need.

That's what God wants us to be - dependent on Him every moment. I liked how "Jesus Calling" talked about being too much of a planner. "All that planning ties you up in knots and distracts you from Me." (July 26, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young). Jesus gives us what we need, when we need it; "the now and the next".

This weekend we lost a very dear friend suddenly and the shock hasn't worn off yet. It made me realize just how important it is to focus on today and Jesus. He guides our day and that's all we have - today. Walk with Him hand in hand today and you'll be where you need to be especially if He calls you home. I know my friend was there and that's where I want to be, too.

"What do we gain by all of our hard work? I have seen what difficult things God demands of us. God makes everything happen at the right time. Yet none of us can ever fully understand all he has done, and he puts questions in our minds about the past and the future. I know the best thing we can do is to always enjoy life, because God's gift to us is the happiness we get from our food and drink and from the work we do" (Ecclesiastes 3: 9-13 CEV).

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sounds of Summer

One of my favorite things about summer is the chance to have the windows open, letting in the fresh breeze that gently floats the curtains out and back. I hate it when it gets too hot and the air conditioning must come on and the windows must close. Fortunately we've had several days, like today, that are perfect to enjoy the sounds of summer through the open windows.

When we first looked at this acreage it was a spring morning. We got out of the car and stood in awe of the chorus of birds that surrounded us. Our trees have grown, making more homes for the birds and everyday we enjoy their manifesto in tune. There are busy chatters, rhythmic patterns that repeat and repeat, and the occasional urgent warning call of "someone is getting too close to my nest". The trill that seems to demand attention and the short melody that expresses joy. The house wren has a light twitter that's high and throaty. The cardinals have an identifiable tone that makes me rush quietly toward the window to catch a peek of their brilliant color. While the bluejays' sharp caw, caw, caw warns the other birds to get out of the way, he's moving in.

The feeders attract a variety of birds and they all sing in happy voices while they help themselves to the goodies. I watch birds but I'm not a real birdwatcher so I don't know the voices of all the different birds and it's even a challenge to find the words to describe what I hear. There are other noises during the summer time that catch my attention, too.

On our sheep farm there is always the baa of someone but you'd be surprised how quiet they are once they've been fed. It's at feeding time they make the most ruckus. They see the shepherd coming and all baaing breaks loose. During the day it's usually the lonely bass baaing of the young ram, or a single ewe who can't find the gate to come through so she can join the rest of the flock that has retreated to the barn.

This time of year the yellow airplane buzzes back and forth, up and down as it takes target over the area corn fields, releasing its spray. The train whistle warns as it approaches the road crossings, I can count Knapp, Jessup, and Ingram as the train moves west and out of hearing range. There is the occasional rumble of the trucks that get too close to the edge of the highway. And of course the barking of our guard dog when a delivery truck comes up the lane. I love the sound of the children next door when in the middle of the afternoon it is swimming time. Their screams and laughter make me wish I could join them.

"Let me hear joy and gladness;" (Psalm 51:8a NIV).

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Well-Watered Garden

The spring rains have been wonderful for the gardens this year. The plants have become lush and green and are beginning to reap bountiful produce. It's such a blessing when the fruit begins to grow on the plant and your mouth begins to water as you await the first taste of fresh green beans, that red tomato, or juicy sweet corn. Oh, my. There is nothing better than garden produce.

I grew up helping in the garden and a big garden it was. Though I'm sure I grumbled at the work when I was young, I grew to love getting my hands into the rich, dark soil. Watching the seeds pop through cracks and burst forth with eager strength to reach toward the warm sunshine. Then the blooms would appear and we knew the fruit was soon to follow. There were weeds to pull and rows to hoe as we waited patiently, or not.

Finally the tiny fruits would appear on the plants, then they filled out and harvesting began. Using a big bowl or a long shirttail, I'd finger through the leaves and select the ripe produce, harvesting it at the perfect time. What fun looking for the beautifully formed and neatly placed fruit, located along the stems or in a row under ground, each bloom turned into a vitamin-packed vegetable. Then the reward... the meals that came from the harvest.

"The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail" (Isaiah 58:11 NIV).

How I wish to be like a well-watered garden, never parched or longing for a drink; always fruitful and giving. With the Lord's help I can be that productive garden, well-watered and yielding a surplus of bounty. He will guide me always and satisfy my needs and strengthen my frame. What a blessing.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fresh Hay

Growing up on a farm I grew to love the fragrance of fresh cut alfalfa hay. In contrast to the smell of a freshly mown lawn, hay has a bold, musky odor that permeates the surrounding air. It's a mixture of alfalfa blooms and pungent cut and crushed leaves and stalks. It instantly takes me back to younger years when I rode along with my dad as he baled or when I was old enough to help out by stacking the rack or driving the tractor and baler, or unloading into the barn.

It takes a lot of things to go right in order to get a crop of hay - from the preparation of the land, to the seeding, germination and growth, to winter over till spring, then grow again with plentiful rains, then a stretch of dry weather for several days so the hay can be cut and conditioned, raked into windrows then baled. (Usually the hottest days of the year.) Then the physical labor begins as the small rectangular bales are spit out of the baler, one by one, onto a waiting hay wagon where they are stacked, bale upon bale till the wagon is full. The heavy green bales then move to the final resting area in a barn where again they are stacked and stored for feeding the animals when no grass is green in the pastures.

I remember the feelings of that intense summer sun, and the hay baler's rash - located on any bare arms or legs and created by the sharp cut ends of alfalfa and an occasional prickly thistle or sharp pointy sand burr. I remember the unquenchable thirst when your body is overheated and screaming for a cool breeze or a rest in the shade. Still there was that wonderful feeling of accomplishment when the barn was full, and the confident knowledge that a store house of food for the animals was ready.

When I watch the sheep in the winter, as they frantically pick the individual leaves and stems from the flake of hay, it's easy to see how thankful they are for all the summer's hard work that put those bales from the farm field into the barn on the hottest day of the year.

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9 NIV).

Monday, July 14, 2014

Working Toward the Grand Prize

I know not everyone raises show sheep so this blog may be one you skip, but it is the apex of our showing season and I am consumed by sheep and shows. This week is county fair for our grandson and all-consumed father and grandfather. I just take pictures and marvel at how a judge can tell the sheep apart and select a winner.

Back in January the lambs were wobble-legged with long wavy tails and dark curly wool. They learned to find the source of nutrition (their mamas) and to stay back when mama goes to lie down. They watched mama eat hay so they began to nibble on hay and one day they found a trough of tiny pellets to chew on. They also were joined by playmates of all different sizes and mamas, lots of big mamas.

The way we learn isn't so different from sheep really. It is trial and error and hopefully enough successes to keep us healthy and growing strong. It's that way in our faith, as well. We are bottle fed the Word in Sunday School, children's books, and words of our parents and pastors. It begins to form us into humans who care about other people and we begin to learn about having a relationship with Christ. We stumble and fall some and we grow stronger and wiser.

"Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good" (I Peter 2:2 NIV).

The show sheep have learned to walk with a halter, hold their heads up high in a sheep stand, walk in circles on the merry-go-round, and keep pace on the treadmill (yes, a sheep treadmill). They are hand fed appropriate amounts of feed to establish the perfect silhouette and exercised to achieve appropriate muscling. Wish someone would do that for me!

Actually the Holy Spirit does that for us if we look to Him for guidance and help. By seeking His Word and studying the life of Christ we are given the opportunity to become more like Him. Each day we can choose to do what Jesus would do, to pray to Him and to listen, and one day we will look into His eyes, face to face, and be awarded the grand champion prize.

"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV).

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Another year older

Another year older and creeping ever so close to another big "0".  My hair is a little grayer and my body a lot pudgier. I have aches and pains that slow me down but I'm blessed to be healthy and happy, so it's a good day.

I should be questioning my mind this week after two incidents of wrong day, wrong place. Twice I've shown up a day early for something and discovered the error. Oh well, I'm retired so it didn't create a major problem. Today it was just a nice hour's drive that I didn't need to make until tomorrow.  It helped me pause and appreciate how beautiful the day is. The air is so refreshing and cool and the birds are singing. The sky is blue with soft puffy clouds moving gently in the breeze. God has blessed us with another lovely summer day.

Mama used to enjoy telling the story of the day I was born. Iowa was in the middle of a heat wave and she was ready to deliver any time, so the doctor put her in the air conditioned hospital to wait. She was delighted to be in cool comfort. There was no air conditioning at home. I was born on a Sunday morning so my birth was announced at church by my proud (or relieved) grandmother.

How blessed I am to have come through years of turmoil to reach this stage in my life. Truly, God redeemed my life from the pit of depression and has crowned it with love and compassion. Being a grandmother is the greatest experience of all time. Life is filled with ebbs and flows that carry us along in the ocean of purpose, crafted by God's hands.

Thank you to all who wished me well on this day. Truly you are part of the good things I desire.

"Praise the Lord, O my soul, All my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul and forget not all his benefits- who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's (Psalm 103:1-5 NIV).

Monday, July 7, 2014

Laundry Day

Back in pioneer days Monday was always laundry day and Tuesday was ironing day.  Now it seems everyday is laundry day. Our laundry rooms are equipped with a dryer so we can toss in a load without considering if the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. This morning I started the week with mounds of dirty clothes from the long weekend. What a meaningless task laundry is! I'll spend all day washing, drying, sorting, folding, and putting away, and maybe even ironing some, then turn around and do the same thing tomorrow.

The Lord sent me to Ecclesiastes 1 today to discover some of Solomon's wisdom. It is a perfect fit (of course) for my day. Solomon, a wise and wealthy king, is found grumbling about the emptiness of worldly tasks and treasures. Instead, Solomon discovered that the only meaningful activities are those that are done with pursuit of God. Everything we say, think and do needs to be done with God in mind.

It didn't take much convincing for Solomon to get the message through to me; laundry done for laundry's sake is worthless and meaningless. But, laundry done for God's sake is rewarding and meaningful. No, God isn't going to wear the clean T-shirts and jeans but John will and though he probably won't say anything, he will appreciate wearing fresh smelling clothes.

Solomon asks the same questions we ask as he evaluates his purpose and direction for life. Am I fulfilling God's will for my life? What is my purpose? Why does my life seem to feel so frivolous? What good am I? For two chapters Solomon debates the uselessness of everything until he finally shares his observations in the familiar verses of Ecclesiastes 3.

"There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven:..." (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NIV). Solomon concludes that when we can find satisfaction in all our work -- this is the gift of God.
"So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot (Ecclesiastes 3:22 NIV).

As you go about your routine chores today, may God remind you that your life is a gift and all that you do can be a gift to God - if you just remember Him as you do it -- even laundry.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Let the Nations Praise Him!

Flags and fireworks, picnics and watermelon; the elements of Independence Day on the 4th of July. We're so fortunate to celebrate our freedoms on this day established by our forefathers. It is so easy to forget the celebration and take these freedoms for granted but this year can be different. Though it's a summer holiday that is made for delightful times with family, the flag waves overhead for a serious reasons.

I'm not from a family of soldiers but I have the greatest respect for our service men and women who give up their lives and their time with family to keep us safe and free. Thank you to all of you who served your country so unselfishly.

Our country once was the greatest in the world and in many ways it still is, but we've lost touch with what gave us the greatness, our faith in God. Our founding fathers were filled with faith when they established the Declaration of Independence and this country. Together these patriots from varied heritage gathered and formed a land with rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Declaration of Independence spoke openly about God, as the Creator, the Supreme Judge of the world and the Divine Providence whose protection was relied on. And that has not changed. God is still our Creator, the Supreme Judge and our Divine Providence.

Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord (Psalm 117 NIV).