Thursday, December 29, 2016

God Loves You So Much!

The Christmas tree looks empty with all the presents gone and many of you have probably taken down your trees and packed the decorations away. I want to enjoy the lights a little longer so ours remains up. When all the presents are gone, they have been opened by the recipient. The gifts have been given. The joy has been shared.  The light has been spread. The anticipation is over but there is still much to learn about the gift: all the ways to use it, how to make it work, and what it can do. The gift owners are still discovering more about the gift.

That is what the world is doing following the arrival of the baby king. It is time to explore and learn again about all that Jesus can do as He grows into a man on earth. There is more to understand about this gift that has been given for us to follow and imitate. There is more to realize about how personally this gift was selected and crafted for us, of how perfectly this gift meets our every need. There is a relationship to develop and build and grow with Jesus our Savior.

This gift of baby Jesus, the human form of God, was given with such love for us. The gift was a rescue rope stretched out to reach us on the rocky cliff and pull us safely closer to Him where we could feel His heartbeat, His loving arms, and hear His whisper in our ears. This gift was God-man: all divine and all human, perfection in a physical being, One of a kind, uniquely Holy, yet visible and touchable.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not sent his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God" (John 3:16-21 NIV).

What a gift we have been given! May we cherish this gift of Jesus every moment of every day of our lives. For Jesus is the gift of the greatest love ever expressed.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Savior is Here!

"The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. 

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, 'This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' 

From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known" (John 1:9-18 NIV).

That tiny baby who was found in the manger by the shepherds and the wise men became a man full of light. He was a holy human filled with wisdom, compassion, healing, love, understanding, truth, mercy and grace. Jesus Christ came to bring heaven to earth and to show us the ways of his Father. He lives with us, even today, when we choose to walk with Him. Let us not allow Christmas to pass by and become only a faint memory of crumpled wrapping paper and dirty dishes; let us celebrate His presence with us every day, every hour, every sunrise and sunset.

May the spirit of Christmas, who is Jesus Christ - Immanuel, live in your heart forevermore.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Music for My Heart

"My heart is stirred by a beautiful song" (Psalm 45:1 God Speaks Interactive Bible NET).

I love this translation of Psalm 45:1. Truly that is how I feel about Christmas music.When I hear a familiar song my heart takes me back to a memory from the past. Sometimes it brings tears; sometimes it lifts me to happiness. Either way, my heart is stirred with the meaning of Christmas.

For many years my father, Corwin Springer, was automatically penciled in as a soloist for our church's Christmas Eve service. I remember as if it was yesterday, his last performance of "O Holy Night" in the front of our church, trying to steady himself with his cane. I also remember the following year when I so proudly listened to our pastor's son, Dan, sing it beautifully.

Christmas music is so closely tied to my family that I can't separate the feelings. Daddy sang with the Marshalltown performance of Handel's "The Messiah" for several decades. I grew up attending the annual presentation in the beautiful First Methodist Church and the songs are forever in my heart. It has been difficult for me to return to the event since Daddy is gone. Mama is included in the memories because she would play the piano for Daddy when he practiced at home and she was always in the audience. She, too, is gone; accompanied by the "Hallelujah!" Chorus as she left the church for the last time.

One contemporary song that has touched my heart for several years is, "Not That Far From Bethlehem" by Point of Grace. One Christmas season a trio of voices from our church sang this so beautifully. I think of this especially this year as I remember Jodeen Beeghly's alto voice, with Cynthia Moore and Denise Hoy. Jodeen is singing with the angels in heaven this year.

When our family gathered at Mom and Dad's for Christmas we often spent time around the piano singing carols. And the annual caroling day with the church was always a very special time. That is another event I can't yet return to without my parents. Music touches so deeply that emotions are nearly always awakened and moved.

"Silent Night" will always remind me of the human circle with candles around our church sanctuary at the end of our Christmas Eve service each year. The sanctuary is gone now; only memories of it remain.

This Messianic psalm describes God's blessing upon our Savior, Jesus Christ. "My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer. You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever" (Psalm 45:1-2 NIV).

May music bless your Christmas season with meaning and with joy for Jesus our Savior is reason to sing!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Focusing On the Nativity

Christmas decorating begins with clearing off all the flat surfaces in the area to make room for the Nativity scenes. I have more than 10 sets, all quite different, yet, very much the same. They remind me what Christmas is all about: the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us.

Because of my 'thing' for sheep, each Nativity features a number of sheep and shepherds. And one set is a scene of sheep in costume, acting out the Nativity. Some might call it sacrilegious or irreverent but I find it wonderful. I believe, even the sheep that came with the shepherds to find Christ that night were worshipping the new King. And if sheep had human abilities, they too would retell the story of the angel's visit and announcement in the pasture.

When our first grandchildren were little I purchased a Fisher-Price Nativity that they could play with and it has been placed on our fireplace hearth every Christmas since. It plays "Away in a Manger" when you press on the angel on top. Some people wait and place baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas day but I have Him in the manger throughout the Christmas season because He is the focus of our celebration, and our daily lives. I love the Nativity scenes because they remind me to look at Christmas from the eyes of a child, with wonder and excitement.

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:1-7 NIV).

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Rescued by the Good Shepherd

"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father-- and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:14-16 NIV).

Sheep are funny animals. They can easily get themselves into a bind that they can't get out of. The sheep are experts at putting their heads through a hole in the fence but being unable to get their heads back out. It was the shepherd's job to rescue them. In a pasture with acres of grass, the sheep want the grass on the other side of the fence. With miles of fence line, the sheep will find the one stray wire sticking out and cut himself on it. Thus was the life of a shepherd. Near Bethlehem the ground is rocky and hilly. There are many places where a lamb could get in big trouble. And there were hungry enemies on the prowl, just waiting to pounce on a stuck lamb. The shepherd's job was his livelihood. Every lost lamb was money or a meal out of his pocket.

Our Good Shepherd knows us well. He sees the trouble we get into and He laid down His life for us. He knows there are still hurting, hungry, lost sheep out there and He has a plan to rescue them all. When they hear His voice they will come to Him and listen, and soon they will become part of His flock, staying close to Him, following Him.

""And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger"" (Luke 2:8-12 NIV).

Monday, December 12, 2016

Satisfied By the Bread of Life

The Christmas season brings with it plenty of temptations: frosted sugar cookies, homemade caramels, gingerbread men, fudge, divinity, candy-coated pretzels, Chex mix, peanut brittle, sour cream twists, candy canes, mints and so much more. Because of the temptations I have cut way back on the Christmas baking and making that I used to do. And I was taught by the best: my mother. She started baking and making in November and by Christmas she had her freezer filled with box upon box of goodies - ready to create beautiful trays of goodies to give to others for their Christmas season.  The key is to keep it out of sight until you give it away.

I have a terrible sweet tooth and often crave something sweet, especially at the end of a meal. But none of the delicious goodies I crave give anything useful to my body. The sugar-high soon wears off and leaves me empty, unmotivated and without energy.

"Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day"" (John 6:35-40 NIV).

Everyday I work on building a craving for Jesus instead of sweets. I wish I could announce that I have made that transition from desiring sweets to only wanting Jesus, and that I no longer have any longing for sweets. Unfortunately, I will probably have to work on this for the rest of my life. I've been told that He is the only one who can fill the emptiness I feel inside. That emptiness often results in depression and emotional eating.

I know Jesus is my bread of life. He will never let me go hungry or thirsty as long as I believe. I do believe with all of my heart. I depend on Jesus to walk with me through whatever the day may bring. So why do I still struggle with the challenges of life? God doesn't promise us a rose garden without temptation or thorns to avoid. But He does promise that if we don't give up our struggle, there will be a reward waiting for us on the last day.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Following the Bright Morning Star

"We have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:19 NIV).

We have a star on the top of our Christmas tree. A glittery silver star sits on the fireplace mantle. There is a star over the top of the stable in most of the nativity sets I have displayed and a cluster of star ornaments help decorate a small Christmas tree in the family room. Most of the Christmas cards I have sent through the years included a star above the shepherds and sheep. I love the drive home from 'midnight' Christmas Eve worship because the stars shine so brightly against the dark sky as we drive through the countryside, reminding me again of that holy night when Jesus was born.

I love to gaze at the stars and fortunately we have an open area behind our back yard that is unencumbered by street lights, making the stars visible. I can pick out a few constellations but mostly I stand in awe of the miracle of God's creation in the night sky. I can visualize what the wise men saw and how the star's extra bright light must have guided them for days, or weeks, or even months as they searched for the king of the Jews.

"Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him" (Matthew 2:2 NIV).

A star is a perfect reminder to us of the announcement of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. As you view the decorations of the season, look for the star and hold its light in your heart. Truly Jesus is the Star we follow so closely, especially as we move closer to the celebration of His birth. May you see His reflection in every star this season.

"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star" (Revelation 22:16 NIV).

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Vine and the Branches

One of the first Christmas decorations I put out is the Christmas tree. Since we have a natural-looking tree that is artificial, we don't have to worry about it drying out. The first task is choosing the location and second is bringing the huge bag to the spot where we will assemble the tree. This has always been my job and I am always very careful when I pack away the tree, to group all the branches from each level together so I know where they go. They are color-coded but the color seems to disappear after time making it a challenge to fit branches where they belong.

I had a helper this year, my beloved husband volunteered. He is colorblind and he failed to understand how the branches were grouped together. After I assembled the stand I turned around to find six or seven piles of branches spread around the room and he was removing branches one-by-one from the bag and placing them on a stack, attempting to match the length of the branches. Though it was a bit of a challenge we eventually connected all the branches into the center trunk and erected a fairly well-shaped tree.

It is only when the branches are connected to the trunk that they are able to support the lights, ornaments and tinsel. With a live cut tree the branches receive life-sustaining water by being connected to the trunk. The branch will die and become brown and brittle if it is severed from its life-source. As I look at our Christmas tree I am reminded of the life-giving vine I am connected to: Jesus Christ. During this Advent season I am diligently focused on keeping my relationship connection with Him.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches" (John 15:1-5a NIV).

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Light of the World is Here

One of the first signs of the Christmas season in our world today is light. It is also one of my favorite symbols of the coming of Jesus, our Savior. From the brilliant lights that adorn houses and trees to the flickering candles seen on window sills, all remind me that Jesus came into the world, bringing His light of hope; spreading His promise of salvation, and shining His overwhelming love on all of mankind.

Just as the star shone so brightly to lead the shepherds and the wise men to baby born in Bethlehem, the Light of Jesus leads us to a beautiful, heavenly home with our Father, where we can live with Him eternally, free and forgiven of our sins.

The colorful displays we enjoy, serve to remind us of our one true Light: the Messiah, who came and fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. Jesus shines into the darkness of the world, revealing the evil ways of man and enlightening the pathway to salvation. The light of Jesus erases all fear and brokenness revealing His truth and His majesty. Jesus reigns in luminous reflection of His Father. Jesus is the Light of the world.

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne, and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish it" (Isaiah 9:2-7 NIV).

May every colorful, sparkling illumination you experience this Advent season, bring you warmth and comfort in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Thankful For the Advent Season

"Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord: let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.  In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care" (Psalm 95:1-7 NIV).

Wait just a minute. Don't pack away the thoughts of thanksgiving just yet; let's carry it with us through the season of Advent! It makes so much sense to lift our arms to our God in heaven and fill the air with our praise for the gift of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Our hearts are already full of gratitude and love, why not continue on that path of offering praise in music and song, and dancing around the room in the advent of joy.

Little compares to the joy of a newborn baby. The sight of that tiny human being who was formed secretively in the womb of his mother. Ten tiny fingers and toes, that itty bitty nose and those perfectly formed lips: a freshly picked child born of the miraculous union of an egg and a sperm. Amazing beauty, a creation of love.

As we wait for the Holy Child of Mary, we again anticipate the arrival of the long-promised baby in Bethlehem who comes to save us; to save the world from its sin and shame. From God's own hands comes the Messiah, Immanuel, God With Us, Son of God: Jesus, the Lamb of God, God in human form.

May your hearts remain full of thanksgiving throughout the Advent season. We have so much to be thankful for as we anxiously await the celebration of the Virgin birth. Jesus is coming! Hallelujah!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Heart of Thanksgiving

"Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts" (Psalm 105:1-2 NIV).

Blessed be His Holy Name! Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

The turkey is ready to go in the oven and soon the whole house will be filled with the fragrance of holiday food. As I sit here in a quiet house, anticipating the joy that is ahead, my heart is overflowing with thanksgiving for a year of blessings. We made a lot of changes this year and God has been with us through them all. A year ago I couldn't have anticipated all that has come to pass so smoothly and so wonderfully.

As the psalm says, this is a day to sing praise to God. Though I love our contemporary services at church, it is during times like these that I especially miss the old hymns I learned as a child. The words of those traditional hymns still ring true to us today, though they are a century or more old.

"We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing; He chastens and hastens His will to make known; the wicked oppressing now cease from distressing, Sing praises to His name: He forgets not His own."

"Come, ye thankful people, come, Raise the song of harvest-home: All is safely gathered in, Ere the winter storms begin; God, our Maker, doth provide For our wants to be supplied: Come to God's own temple, come, Raise the song of harvest-home."

"We plow the fields, and scatter The good seed on the land, But it is fed and watered By God's almighty hand; He sends the snow in winter, The warmth to swell the grain, The breezes and the sunshine, And soft refreshing rain. All good gifts around us Are sent from heaven above; Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord For all His love. Amen."

"When upon life's billows you are tempest-tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Cout your many blessings--name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord has done. Count your blessings--name them one by one; Count your blessings-see what God has done; Count your blessings--name them one by one; Count your many blessings--see what God has done."

"Praise God from whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen."

May your hearts and mouths sing of the blessings in your life today. God bless you all.

Monday, November 21, 2016

So Thankful For Fall

Iowa  was blessed with a very mild November this year and I am so thankful for the extra weeks of warmth. The first real cold days arrived this weekend, reminding me that we are in Iowa in November. Like a lot of others I waited until the day before the cold was to arrive to finish all my winterizing. It was wonderful to spend a 75 degree day putting away my flower pots, pulling the dead flowers, covering the grill and outdoor furniture and watering the new trees for the last time. I even put up my shepherd and sheep Christmas display while it was warm. I'll plug it in after Thanksgiving.

We have enjoyed pleasant Thanksgiving Days in the past but they seemed to be a respite from an otherwise cold November. There have been many times when the football was tossed around outside on a sunny Thanksgiving. But I also remember an icy Thanksgiving when driving was treacherous. We still have a fine looking pumpkin sitting on the front step as a reminder of the bountiful harvest season just past.

The act of Thanksgiving was not original to the Pilgrims or Native Americans. Thanksgiving was included as part of the fellowship offering required in Old Testament times.

"These are the regulations for the fellowship offering a person may present to the Lord: If he offers it as an expression of thankfulness, then along with this thank offering he is to offer cakes of bread made without yeast and mixed with oil, wafers made without yeast and spread with oil, and cakes of fine flour well-kneaded and mixed with oil. Along with his fellowship offering of thanksgiving he is to present an offering with cakes of bread made with yeast. He is to bring one of each kind as an offering, a contribution to the Lord;" (Leviticus 7:11-14 NIV).

Though we no longer need to present specific offerings to God because Jesus Christ was the sacrificial offering once and for all, we still gather together on Thanksgiving to give God the glory for all the blessings we enjoy. We prepare the special feast and join around the table, thanking God for good health, good harvest, wonderful family, and special friends. While the traditional turkey is prepared, the vegetables and dressing are made, and the salads are stirred, our thoughts are on the freedoms we enjoy in America, the life we are able to live, and the peace we look forward to in eternity with our Savior.

May our hearts be overflowing with thankfulness as we ready our homes for this special holiday.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

So Much To See

"At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure" (Luke 10:21 NIV).

The 2016 North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, KY held experience after experience. When we arrived the first order of business was to unload the sheep and all the equipment. Our first car arrived and they immediately scouted out a good location for the pens as well as nearby space to set up the shearing stands, lawn chairs and the huge storage box. They found a great spot close to the show ring, access to water and room enough for three shearing stands, six lawn chairs and the sheep tack box adjacent to the pens. They made claim to the area while they waited for the truck and trailer to arrive with the sheep.

The roads around the Kentucky Expo Center ran right along the freeway and seemed to take us in circles as we began the search for the appropriate sheep docks to unload. There was a massive line of trucks and trailers for several blocks, all waiting to do the same thing. Occasionally one truck would pull out after unloading so the line of vehicles edged ahead. The instant we were parked near a dock all our troop swarmed around the trailer and truck to unload the equipment and sheep. The kids took their own sheep by halter and led them through the maze of pens, people, sheep, and sheep tackle to secure them in the designated pens, following the line of our troop all loaded down with equipment. It was quite a procession, woven amidst tens of other families doing the same thing.

Following the check in, parking the trailer and getting the sheep settled and fed, we were starving and tired so we all headed to a restaurant - along with hundreds of others. We finally found a place that wasn't an hour wait and gratefully fell into our seats to enjoy a meal. The next stop was our hotels where we again did the unloading, of luggage this time.

As Friday morning arrived it was showmanship day. The first order was weighing in the lambs, getting show numbers for the kids, washing and shearing the lambs and preparing for the showmanship competition that started at 4 p.m. The classes were announced, sorted by age of the exhibitor, starting with the youngest of 6-years-old and ending with the oldest class of 20, I believe. We had grandchildren in the 8-year-old, 11-year old, 16-year-old, and 18-year-old divisions. There were up to 50 in every class. Kids lined the huge show ring with their sheep and did their best to make their lambs look their best for the judge. Each class took nearly an hour as the judge eliminated those who made a mistake or struggled to show their lambs. The judge narrowed it to about the top 10 showmen in the class. We were very proud that all of our kids got pulled to be in the top 10 of their class! But it was a very long night of showing and waiting.

Saturday was open for us as all of our sheep were in the black face crossbreed market show on Sunday. There were four sheep to wash and shear and plenty to see in the enormous exhibition Center. One of the favorites was a huge General Store geared to livestock showmen and breeders. Much like the Varied Industries Building of the Iowa State Fair, this was a huge collection of businesses ready to sell to the target audience of agriculturalists. For years I'd heard about the great shopping and the comments were correct. As a sheep lover, I was amazed to sort through all the little booths of collectibles, decorator items, equipment and western and show wear. I've never seen so many blue jeans with sparkles and bling!

The younger girls had a great time finding all the special sights at the expo. There were horse and wagon shows going on in one arena, and they found every family that was selling kittens or puppies in the area. There were dozens of dogs that accompanied sheep families for the expo so it was always fun to see them walking down the aisles or sitting on someone's lap.

Sunday was the big show day bustling with washing, shearing, primping of the sheep and the girls, also. The lambs were divided by breeds and weight classes. We had sheep in five weight classes of blackface crossbred lambs. There were at least 30 lambs and exhibitors in each class. The judge would pull lambs he liked as they came into the ring, then start through the lineup and feel each sheep, looking for the best of the best. He reduced the competitors by more than half, keeping the top 10-15 lambs in the ring while the others were excused. Then he would focus on those remaining in the ring and begin to rank them according to his opinion. It was a long task and a tough job. We were pleased that all of our lambs ranked in the top 10 of their class. Eight-year-old Bailey got to show the lamb that placed the highest: fifth in the class!

Though no one won a class, there weren't any downcast faces in our group. They all felt good about their placings and the experiences they enjoyed. Throughout the show year the grandchildren learned what the judge was looking for, what worked best to show off the good characteristics of their lambs, and they knew that practice and hard work pays off. Their experiences revealed wisdom of more than just sheep know-how, they learned about respect and professionalism, patience and the pleasure of a job well done.

Often the kudos of life seem to go the the rich, the famous, the popular, the smart or the big shots, but  there is more to life than being number one. Fortunately, God is available to everyone who is able to trust like a child. Thank you God for being available to all of us and for creating ways for us to grow and understand how important a relationship with you is to our well-being. We praise you, God, for revealing your love to the children.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Eye-Opening Experiences

One thing I like about traveling is the opportunity to see new places, new people, new cultures and to have new experiences. For four years or so, John, Brent and Brady have taken an annual trip to Louisville, Kentucky in November to attend the NAILE (North American International Livestock Exposition), taking along the grandchildren to show sheep in competition with hundreds, if not thousands of sheep-sters from across the nation. This year I went along to observe and of course take pictures.

The 4-day adventure began Thursday morning. Eight Stewarts, three friends, eight sheep, a trailer of equipment, a truck and a Sequoia, with luggage departed at daylight on the 9-hour trip. Just getting on the road was no small feat. We arrived independently in Louisville during rush hour but made it to the Kentucky Exposition Center by dusk. I got my first sight of the Center from the bumper to bumper freeway: literally thousands of livestock trailers lining the enormous parking lots that surround the Center. NAILE is a 2-week international fair consisting of competitions for nearly every agricultural species and every breed. While we were there for the sheep showmanship and judging competitions by breed, there were equal cattle and horse events occurring at the same time in other equally colossal wings of the massive facility (over 1,200,000 square feet) on 400 acres.

Inside one wing, there were rows and rows of livestock pens and two large show rings with bleachers covering an area similar to two football fields (my guess) under a roof. The preparation for this must have taken weeks. The floor was protected by rolled roofing which also added a bit of traction to the otherwise slick concrete floors. Interspersed with the pens were watering troughs with hoses connected to water through the floor and electrical outlets also through the floor. The washing pens were located on outside walls of the building, requiring a healthy walk, often through a maze of people and multitudes of sheep 'stuff' consisting of fitting stands, show boxes, folding chairs and tables for more 'stuff', blowers and shearing equipment, plus straw, bedding and sheep feeding supplies and buckets. Add to that the smell of sheep and the green dust from the fancy dyed wood shavings that coated the show ring floor and you have the full effect of the NAILE experience, Part 1.

This just sets the stage for the really big experiences with the grandchildren that I'll explain on Thursday.

"Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it," (Luke 10:23-24 NIV).

Monday, November 7, 2016

Hayride in the Country

Our country church has a tradition of hosting a hayride followed by a meal in the fall. Yesterday we enjoyed a beautiful fall afternoon tour of the countryside on a hay rack with hay bales for our seats and plenty of blankets to keep us warm.We filled the hayrack and the back of the truck that pulled us with people.

It has been a few years since I had gone on a hayride but I was quickly reminded that hayrides are always fun! It was a multigenerational hayride with kids from age two to senior citizens. We took our two youngest grandchildren along for the experience: Graham 6 and Piper 3. Those two had taken a tractor/wagon ride in an apple orchard before but they were intrigued none the less. They were anxious to see where we were going and what we would see as we wound our way along the gravel roads of rural Marshall County.

As the ride began, everyone adjusted to the hay bale seats and the fresh air that cooled us. The early part of our trail took us along a curvy road, under trees and past farm homes and fields. We saw sheep enjoying the recently picked corn fields and farm dogs chasing along our tires. We drove under tree-draped roads and smelled the freshness of overturned soil and crunchy falling leaves. We drove through Grammar Grove, feeling sheltered by trees overhead. We looked through tall barren branches to see the beautiful blue of the sky. We saw the quarter-moon hanging high in the southern sky and watched flocks of birds dipping and diving over the harvested fields.

The next trail took us down a dead end road, into a forest reserve along the Iowa river. The wagon brushed through the tall grasses along the narrow dirt path that soon became muddy and puddle-covered. The hayrack wobbled and creaked as it moved through the mud holes and splashed through the water. We all swayed back and forth with the movement and tried to stabilize the hayrack by leaning. The grandchildren's eyes became wide as they wondered if we were going to get stuck or tip over. Our awesome tour guide driver reached the end of the road and aptly navigated the truck and hay wagon in a circle to lead us out the way we came. The setting sun lit up the golden maples and oaks that still had leaves so they exploded with warm color against the sky.

The laughter and chatter echoed out into the wilderness air as we reversed our path and returned to the church. Dusk was falling quickly as the first evening of the end of daylight savings time was upon us. The moon sliver became brighter and brighter against the dark sky until we unloaded at the church, just before darkness engulfed the countryside.

"May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all," (2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV).

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Celebrating Someone Else's Joy

Over the last 10 days or so I have become a World Series watcher. I typically don't like watching baseball unless I know someone who is playing. I attended more than my share of Pee Wee through Little League games when my boys were playing and John was coaching, and I enjoyed every game. But when it comes to the big leagues I've never gotten into it - until the Cubbies made the World Series. I guess just because Chicago is close and the Iowa Cubs prepare players for the Cubs sometimes, I was interested in the Series this year. And maybe because it was so long-awaited.

By watching the games, and hearing John's play-by-play commentary, I got to know some of the players and learned some insider tips on pitching, batting, and fielding. We had a good time cheering on the Cubs. It was a good Series with both teams having some great days and coming down to a tie and extra innings during the final game. It doesn't get much better than that.

I can't help but feel a little guilty for celebrating with the Cubbies as just a part-time or fair-weather fan. There are folks out there who have been waiting for this World Series win for decades. They can tell you everything you want to know about every player and probably every game the Cubs have played. They deserve this joy. I do not.

Real joy comes from a consistent, on-going relationship with Jesus Christ. My study Bible says in the footnote to John 15:11, "true joy transcends the rolling waves of circumstance". I have struggled to feel that real joy all of my life. The chronic depression I live with seems to place a cap on my joy, preventing it from truly sinking in to my being and becoming part of my soul.  I know it is Jesus with me who helps me walk through the darkest days.

Jesus said, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete," (John 15: 9-11 NIV).

Monday, October 31, 2016

Time For Rest?

Next Sunday morning we turn our clocks back an hour at the end of Daylight Savings Time. That makes me happy because I like to think I'm getting an extra hour to sleep. Not that it matters to me now that I'm retired, but I remember how it was when I worked. There never seemed to be enough time for rest.

This time of year seems appropriate to think about rest as the farmers near the end of their labor-intensive season of harvest. For months they race against the calendar and the approaching winter weather to complete harvest and as much post-harvest work they can before the ground freezes. For most Iowa farmers that probably means another month in the fields, if they are lucky. Before the monster equipment became common, farmers felt fortunate to finish harvest by Thanksgiving.

I watch as the younger generations navigate through the busy years of child-raising, school days, long work weeks, full schedules, and homemaking, and I wonder how they do it.

This time of year doesn't mean rest to everyone. Fall sports come to an end and students shift gears as they prepare for indoor basketball and wrestling, or conditioning for spring track, soccer, softball and baseball. Musicians gear up for the busy season of challenging yet glorious Advent and Christmas music. Churches move into super scheduling of preparation and planning.  Retail businesses load up their work schedules with additional laborers to be ready for the big sales season ahead.

As I begin to winterize by bringing in the flower pots and garden hoses, cover the outdoor furniture and grill, carry away the flowers as they die back and water the new trees and plants, I realize how cyclical our lives are. We adjust to the seasons by what we do and how we think. Every moment of every day is useful for work or for rest. God is always with us to provide the extra strength and rest that we need.

Whatever challenges you face today or tomorrow, address them with God's love and help and they will be manageable and achievable.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light," (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV).

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Race Before Us

I've got running on my mind this week because our grandson Calvin will run in his first State Cross Country Meet on Saturday in Fort Dodge. He has worked so hard for over two years to train his body to run distances. He spent the last two summers running up and down and around the gravel roads near his home, throughout the town of Gilbert, through the State Fair grounds, and around golf courses and cross country paths from here to Minnesota. I am so proud of the success he has had this year and the great times he has posted, but even more so I am proud of his determination and commitment to the craft of running. I wish I had the conviction to work that hard on anything.

But that's when I turn to the scriptures to relate running to the path of faith that lies before us. This is the race I want to win the most and the one I want my children and grandchildren to win - the race of life in Christ Jesus. Just as Calvin needs to focus on each step as he takes it, we too must focus on Jesus Christ in this moment and the next, not on what is already past.

"But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13b-14 NIV).

As we read scriptures, pray, worship God, fellowship with other Christians, and study His Word, we become familiar with the path and our feet fall surely to the ground, one after the other, moving forward to conquer the hills and the rocky valleys.

"You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?" (Galatians 5:7 NIV).

Yet, there are times when we lose sight of the goal or someone or something distracts our focus. We sometimes stumble or struggle on the path, losing our way or losing sight of the goal. It is then that we can call out to God and He will hear us and respond to our cry for help. His strength will bolster ours and we will be lifted up to follow the path and pursue the goal with courage and confidence in Him.

"The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint" (Isaiah 40:28b-31 NIV).

Monday, October 24, 2016

Love For A Lifetime

We had a family celebration this weekend. My big sister Burneta and her husband Gene celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary! It was a delightful day filled with friends and family all around them, sharing memories and updates on their lives. The daughters created a beautiful display of photos in the shape of 60 and they had Burneta's wedding dress and vail there with the photo album of wedding pictures. It was so fun to look through the photos and see the love in the young couple's eyes. They are so blessed; even though their lives have held many difficult challenges and sorrow, along with the joys and laughter; they have endured together.

They have four adult children who have made them so proud, along with their spouses, and four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren that they adore. They are amazed by the talents of their family members and just glow whenever they talk about them. There are also very special grand-horses, grand-dogs, and grand-cats that complete the family circle.

Though I don't remember Gene and Burneta's courting days, I've been told that I nearly ruined the relationship. Whenever Gene came to visit, I cried so loud, it was nearly impossible for anyone else to hear a conversation. But it is clear that Gene was smitten with true love because he kept coming back. He wisely took her out whenever possible.

Their child-raising years went by in a flurry of activity. With a little girl, twin boys, and another little girl, the days were filled with washing laundry, cleaning house, cooking, bathing, gardening, canning, and all the work of an Iowa farm. Add to that a job in the insurance office that eventually became full-time for them both. There were piano lessons and lots of music and dedication to the United Methodist Church in Albion. There were ball games and recitals and farm work to do. And aging parents to care for and to love.

I haven't done their life justice in these few paragraphs and there is still more to come! It has been a joy watching these two master life for 60 years together. They are an inspiration to other couples and a wonderful example of living life for a lifetime. Congratulations Gene and Burneta! We all love you!

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV).

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Crushing Waves of Life

"You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, 'I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.' The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God" (Jonah 2:3-6 NIV).

I got to experience Jonah's waves in a very slight form this past week. We vacationed in San Francisco and viewed the Pacific Ocean many times along the coastal highway, both north and south of the huge city. I completed a bucket list item: I walked in the ocean water. I took off my shoes and socks and rolled up my jeans. It was a full moon time and the waves were crashing onto the shore. The beach was long and dotted by people on the 70 degree day. As I approached the water I watched where the waves were coming in and carefully ventured closer. Suddenly a wave swept toward me with a smooth sweeping motion that forced me to stabilize my stance as the water pushed up to my knees and slipped back into the ocean again. I braced myself, thinking at one point I was going to be pushed over. But I suffered only wet jeans from my knees down.

As I watched the bigger waves repeatedly crash onto the beach I was mesmerized by the roar of the powerful ocean. I can see how someone could get hurt by or be pulled back into the ocean by the waves. They were truly unapproachable, as the signs warned. I think I could have watched the waves all day. It was such a different experience for this farm girl. The white caps formed over and over in long rolls of foamy water racing toward the shore and crashing onto the sand or into the rocks creating water spouts that splashed toward the heavens.

I can't help but remember times in my life when depression was like the engulfing waters, wearing me out by the persistent waves that crashed over and over against me until I could no longer see the light, only darkness. But, God was faithful and delivered me also from the pit of pain and hopelessness.

"When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple" (Jonah 2:7 NIV).

Monday, October 10, 2016

Experiences of Life

Yesterday John and I stopped at a pumpkin patch out in the country on one of the roads we travel to church. Their parking lot was beyond full and there were hundreds of people scattered over the acres of ground, searching for the perfect pumpkin. John had a definite image of his perfect pumpkin, too. It needed to be very round and symmetrical and orange.

We were still in our church clothes but we just wanted one pumpkin to set on our front step and six strange-shaped gourds needed for a youth event at church. We walked up to the building to find out what the process was and noticed a table of large pumpkins that were already weighed and priced. We discovered we could choose one of those pumpkins and pay for it, rather than walking through the pumpkin patch. That sounded good to John so he chose a nice, big round orange pumpkin marked $10 and carried it out to the checkout stand. We noticed a table of gourds, so gathered six of the least-normal gourds and got in line at the stand. All the while we dodged the families pulling wagonloads of pumpkins, miniature straw bales, gourds, and other harvest goods. The pumpkin was heavy and John's back was already sore. We checked out and made our way back to our car with our purchases.

We also needed some rope for the youth event so we stopped at a farm store to buy some. Just outside the store we saw two huge crates filled with pumpkins, priced $2.99 each. John stopped to review them and assured me that ours was much bigger and more perfect and besides, it was all about the "experience" at the pumpkin patch.

"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm" (Proverbs 4:23, 25, 26).

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Following the Course

"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths" (Isaiah 2:3a NIV).

I just received an email with the map for Calvin's next cross country meet. We always look for locations where we can catch a view of him running several times. Often we are able to cheer him on from several points along his course and we try to be near the finish line to watch his last push against time and other racers. The cross country course is often on a golf course where the manicured grounds are perfect for marking paths and providing challenging hills plus attractive scenery.

Our life path is similar to a cross country course. We move along for a while till we come to a sharp turn and double back the same way we came. Then we may come to a new path that takes us through deep valleys where we get muddy and become encumbered by the trials we face. Eventually we tackle the long hills and reach the top where another trail guides us through times of sunshine and fragrant prairies with far reaching views that make our hearts beat with joy.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV).

When we put our trust in God, we have the golf cart driving ahead of us, showing us where the course goes next, giving us room to choose a different direction, but guiding us along the path He has chosen for us - if we keep our focus on Him. We have to keep going; we can't give up. We can choose our own pace but the prize at the end gives us the determination and desire to keep reaching toward the finish line.

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path" (Psalm 119:105 NIV).

May God's word touch you with encouragement today so you can continue on the path He has set before you.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Precious Moments; Making Memories

What a wonderful weekend we had! We were able to spend time with all of our grandchildren. Though they weren't here all at once we spent valuable time with each one. And it was wonderful.

It takes time to get to know each grandchild and it is the extended time that is so precious in our hearts and minds.  The moments of hugs and cuddling are so needed to this old lady's soul. I hope those times are special to each child's heart also and that they will remember something good about their grandparents.

It makes my heart leap with joy when the youngest ones greet us by running to us with hugs. I will always cherish that greeting of love that only grows more precious as the children grow older. The quiet times of reading books together as they intently listen to each word and inflection. Listening as another child reads a chapter book to me that is just the kind of book I would have chosen when I was her age.

There are the little conversations that leave me wondering when the child became so wise and knowledgeable. The shared glances of mischievous grins, just overflowing with love. The times when the driving grandchild walks into the house, introducing a special friend. The enjoyment of conversation over a meal together, catching up on the grandchild's busy life and being in awe of the wonderful woman she is becoming.

I savor the snapshots in my mind of watching as the older siblings lead the younger ones in bedtime prayers - seeing the love between them all.  Listening to conversations between the children that make me smile and chuckle. Feeling such pride as I hear the dreams and goals expressed by each child. Gathering all these moments of memories and locking them safely away as treasures in my heart. Thank you, God, for the blessing of grandchildren. There is no greater gift in life.

"Children's children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children" (Proverbs 17:6 NIV).

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Time for Pumpkins and Apples

It's officially fall. I got out my jeans jacket yesterday and wore long pants instead of capris. The A.C. is off. A blanket will be added to our bed tonight. I'm wearing socks and a sweatshirt. The blinds are open instead of closed and I'm drinking hot water instead of a glass of ice water. The calendar will turn to October on Saturday!

It's time for trips to the pumpkin patch and the apple orchard and pretty displays of mums and cornstalks bundled and standing next to straw bales and scarecrows. There are flocks of birds overhead and changing colors all around. Fall is a time of rosy cheeks and cold fingers, football games and fleece blankets.

I love the fragrance of fall; that cool, musty scent of falling leaves and freshly mown grass. The thick dusty clouds that hang over the fields of freshly combined beans and trail behind the trucks and wagons that repeatedly travel to the elevators or farms and back again. I begin to crave the fragrance of warm apple cider or freshly baked pumpkin bars or apple cake. Or the crackling of a bonfire or a burning pile of leaves.

I love the sounds of fall; the crunch of leaves under your feet as you walk across the yard. The frequent honking of Canadian geese as they move to the next watering hole for a rest. The rumble of farm equipment running smoothly; the beating of the combine as it nears the end rows. The whistles and buzzers at the local football games, accented by roars and cheers from the crowd that signal an exciting play. The patterned chants of the cheerleaders and the rhythmic beating of the drummers who lead the marching band into formation.

I soak in the color of the sunrises and sunsets, marveling in their beauty as the clouds reflect the light of morning and evening. And I thank God for the change of seasons and the gift of fall produce.

"The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again...The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:5-7, 8b NIV).

Monday, September 26, 2016

Flower Beds

My Mama had a green thumb. One of my favorite pictures of her is with her straw hat tied under her chin, smiling as she returned from the garden with a pail of produce. She is wearing a nice blouse so she must have been gathering something for a meal or to share.

When we moved to the State Center farm in March 1961(?), I remember Mama exploring the yard as things began to grow in the spring. I remember her excitement in finding Sweet Peas growing along a fence. The fence was eventually taken out and the sweet peas must have gone with it because they weren't there in later years. She inherited a huge yellow Rose bush and Hollyhocks framed the garage and corners of the garden. She often added flowers from her friend's gardens and lovingly divided her flowers to share with others. She created long rows of Peonies and Iris that were fragrant and colorful for a few weeks before summer. She helped all of her daughters start their own flower beds, allowing us to take a part of her with us wherever we lived.

I'm missing that opportunity now as I begin to establish new flower beds here. In June I planted annuals along the sidewalk and in a few pots to add some quick color to our yard. Now, I am thinking more of perennials so we can enjoy them every year. I think of Mama as I choose flowers for our new beds and will include some that she loved. I hope to find a deep purple Iris, the light purple Iris that smells like grape, and the burgundy/mauve one that smells like root beer, too. I wish I had made time to gather some from our acreage before we left.

I will also try some new things. I planted several varieties of grass in the new beds. It will be interesting to see how they work with the flowers. I love bright colors so I've included lots of blue and red as well as some of the traditionals like Black-eyed Susans, Salvia, Daylilies and Coneflowers. I hope to keep the beds low maintenance but time will tell.

"As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more" (Psalm 103:15-16 NIV).

Friday, September 23, 2016

Mortality Check

There is something very humbling about going to the Social Security office. In our attempt to find the  best financial plan for our future, we made an appointment with a Social Security professional at the Des Moines office. We arrived 30 minutes early to see a line of about 20 people waiting for the door to open at 9 a.m. John and I looked at each other quizzically as we found a place to park - away from the 15-20 handicapped parking spots.

We watched as the line of mostly gray-haired people filed inside the strip-mall-style building and were methodically dispersed throughout the building. We entered the building with our file of papers and were immediately greeted by a very large officer behind a counter. He asked if we were carrying any weapons - guns or knives - then he asked to search my purse. I complied of course and fortunately I had left behind my scissors, aerosol sprays and other wound-causing items. We were directed to a vacant kiosk where we entered our information and were issued a ticket, #958 and told to take a seat among those already waiting.

At one side of the rather large room full of airport style seats there was a row of six windows with the numbers 1-6 overhead. People were seated in front of the windows talking to a worker on the other side of the window. There was a small opening near the desk top where papers could be passed through to the personnel. Our number was called and we were instructed to go to desk 21. We went around a corner and found a long hallway with sets of windows and chairs on each side, most of them already occupied.  We found our number and were greeted by a very pleasant young woman. The hallway echoed with the conversations that were going on behind and beside us. We leaned toward  the window and listened closely to hear as she assisted us with our questions and provided the benefits estimates for several possible retirement scenarios. When we understood everything adequately, we thanked her for her help and left.

After all the talk about retirement age, filing for benefits, restricted spousal benefits, and widow benefits, it certainly made us feel our age. (That and the fact that we had spent the last several evenings planting trees and landscaping our yard; we were aching all over!) The reality is that we are nearing the end of our lives. That reality gives us a different perspective on life and what needs to be most important.

"They (the righteous) will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, "The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him," (Psalm 92:14-15 NIV).

Monday, September 19, 2016

Bluebirds, Brown Corn and Muddy Water

We had a beautiful weekend to enjoy a couple of road trips and the scenery was sprinkled with signs of the approaching fall.  Leaving the city I was amazed at how the corn stalks turned brown in just a week's time. Perhaps it was the cool nights or the heavy rain that coaxed the crops into their fall attire. The big blue stem adds its purple tinge to the ditches creating waves as the wind blows through it.

On Friday my delight was seeing a flock of bluebirds rush onto our deck, perch briefly, then fly away again. My neighbor has been watching the bluebirds and hummingbirds attracted to the petunias blooming in the corner of our deck. But I had never seen them until Friday when my timing was right. I was amazed by their reddish-brown chests in contrast to the blue feathers. Evidently the bluebirds enjoy sitting on the iron fence at the back of our yards and must nest in the trees on the other side. It was such a special sighting.

On Saturday morning we watched the Heartland Cross Country Meet in Ames. Calvin's race (Varsity Boys) was last so we watched three races before his. It was only 70 degrees but the sun was hot in the valleys. What an amazing sight to watch more than 600 JV girls move in mass down the first hillside and gradually stretch out to fill the initial 800 yards. There were high school students from every state bordering Iowa. By the fourth race the grass on the course was pounded to nearly mud and the racers returned to the finish line spattered by the mud flying from shoes in front of them. (Calvin ran his personal best - he was awesome!)

As we drove over the long Saylorville Lake bridge yesterday I was surprised to see how muddy the water was and that it was filled with debris everywhere I looked. There were still many boats in the water but it seemed like all the floating branches and logs would cause some troubles. The creeks and rivers were all running very high and flowing with such force, bank to bank.  We received about three inches of rain last week and I know many areas received much more.

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil--this is the gift of God" (Ecclesiastes 3:11-13 NIV).

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Being Real

I have been sitting here for more than an hour, using distractions to avoid writing. The reason isn't that I couldn't think of anything to write; instead I've been avoiding writing what is on my mind. Most of the time I can pull off a pretty good happy face and convincingly share how well I'm doing. Then there are other times when I just can't fake it.

I've slipped into a bit of a slump. The daylight hours are shrinking. The trigger point injections I get for pain in my back didn't give me much relief this time. My attempt at kicking up my exercise sessions have aggravated the pain in my hips and back. I can't seem to get enough sleep and I lack energy for the things I need to do.

But, no matter what our personal issue is, God always provides an answer in scripture.  The Book of Psalms is a great place to look for God's response to nearly every trial we face. My New International Study Bible has an topical index of the Psalms that makes it easy to find what you are looking for. I can't share them all but I will share a few that address what I need to hear today and maybe they will touch your heart also.

Psalms 6, 13,18, 28, 29, 40, and 86 speak to us when we are tired or feeling weak. When we feel overwhelmed we should read Psalms 25, 69, and 142.  When we are grieving, read Psalms 23 and 34. If we face illness, Psalms 6, and 139 provide help. In all circumstances we must pray to God and trust that His answer will come in His time.

"How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, I have overcome him, and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me" (Psalm 13 NIV).

Monday, September 12, 2016

Stories We Remember

I spent the weekend with the camera around my neck capturing moments as my grandchildren practiced their best sheep showing skills. I am often seen with my camera; almost as if it was part of me. I know that the grandchildren probably believed it was part of my body when they were little, because I was always snapping pictures of them. I don't carry it around as much as I used to, especially when I worked at the newspaper and then the college; the camera was a tool that went with me everywhere so I could capture stories in photographs.

During Jesus' time there weren't cameras to document the events of his life. Instead, his disciples and followers took time to tell his story in words. Thankfully, many of his stories were written down and preserved in the Bible where we can reread them and remember.

John is one of the authors who collected stories of Jesus and he presents evidence of Jesus's life to prove that He was the Son of God. But at the end of the book of John, he states there were many stories left untold.

"This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written" (John 21:24-25 NIV).

Just as Jesus' followers shared their stories, we too, need to share our stories of faith with our youth so they can know, believe, and remember as well.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Power of Three

One of the attractions to our house when we were looking was the trio of high, square windows on the central wall of the living room. The windows are framed in white and feature a single Colonial grille or cross-shaped framework. The windows are about four-feet above the fireplace, providing lots of natural light in the room.

What has surprised me most is how often I see something through them. From standing or sitting in the room, your eyes look up through the windows and capture an uncluttered view of the sky. Often the blue expanse is decorated with fluffy white clouds gliding along in interesting forms. Contrasting jet streams appear and then fade away, as well. I've seen small planes and helicopters pass through my air space and even a hot air balloon drifted by once.

The fluffy white clouds seem to gently dance their way past on windy days, contrasting with the deep gray storm clouds that rush tumultuously across the sky. A red-tailed hawk daily floats in circles overhead, perhaps searching for prey in the nearby pond. The V-shape of a flock of geese moves across the sky, often accompanied by its honking chorus. In the last few weeks we have enjoyed the striking sight of migrating pelicans. The brilliant white birds seem to float carelessly above, drifting on a breeze, dancing together as their form changes from bold white to shiny silver reflections that sparkle against the blue canvas.

Equally beautiful is the view of the night sky. The three windows provide peek holes to the star-lit blanket of black and the occasional blinking light of a passing airplane. But, it is the moon's appearance that is most striking as I peer through the windows after dark. It is almost as if I'm looking through a special lens to an uninterrupted view of the world.

Designers have utilized the power of three for a long time but the greater significance was first revealed centuries ago in the Bible. Three examples are: the Holy Trinity - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; Jesus rose from the grave in three days; and Peter denied Jesus three times to fulfill the prophecies.

"Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:12 NIV).

Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day Appreciation

Labor Day is highly anticipated because it comes near the end of summer, shortly after school begins, and often brings an official close to the vacation season. We noticed lots of activity at Saylorville Lake this weekend. There were, of course, many taking advantage of the long weekend with picnics and big gatherings and many boats in the water.

There is something very special about Labor Day weekend, especially when you are a working person (if you are lucky enough to have a job that gives you a 3-day weekend). It is the last holiday weekend of the summer. It is often the time for that last big project on the house. Or hopefully for you it is time for a special family get-together or camping outing. Whatever you do this weekend I hope it is a time of blessings, joy and rest.

"Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-14 NIV).

Although I am no longer employed, I still have those "who are over me in the Lord" as the scripture says. Those elders in the church who tirelessly serve so faithfully are included. We are blessed to have special servants who pray for the body of the church and its future. They support the sick and the troubled in their times of need. They offer guidance and correction with loving concern. They provide wisdom in times of confusion or shock. They take a stand with conviction and lead the church under God's direction.

Rarely do the leaders of the church get recognized with appreciation because so much of their work takes place invisibly. This year at Bethel Grove Church several members willingly stepped up to fill positions of leadership because there was a need. Sometimes we must step out in faith to grow and to become aware of the work that still needs to be done.

This Labor Day I'm appreciating those who work so hard, in so many different ways, to spread the Word of God to those searching for an answer.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

September Sighs

"All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a sigh. The length of our days is seventy years--or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass and we fly away" (Psalm 90:9-10 NIV).

The arrival of September's calendar page always brings a sigh for how quickly the summer passed and the realization that fall will soon be arriving. We are having some absolutely perfect days to enjoy in Iowa (Thank you, Lord!) so I want to soak them all in and enjoy them fully. The warmth of the sun is such a blessing. The fields of corn and soybeans are beginning to show signs of maturity. Already silage has been harvested and the seed corn fields are prepped and ready. The rains have kept the grass green in the pastures and the hay continues to grow. It is a busy season of anticipation and change.

It is also a season of acceptance of age in my life. I may still think like a 40-year-old but my body can't act like one anymore. Pain makes it so much easier to just stay seated; my arms look like I've been in battle; and my memory has taken a permanent coffee break. I think I have officially reached the September of my life.

Retirement is supposed to be a time of rest, relaxation, enjoyment, travel, and peaceful contemplation and reflection. It doesn't always turn out that way. Many people work years into their retirement and others don't live long enough to experience it. And maybe that is okay. Lots of situations in life can be worse than death. Perhaps that is why Jim Elliot wrote: "Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God."

Christian author Charles R. Swindoll, tied the quote with Paul's words in Colossians 3:17, NIV. "Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him".

After my September sigh for the day, I'm ready to get up and use this day to God's glory, for soon enough it will be gone.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Answered Prayer - Now What?

Two years ago I attended the Christian Writer's Workshop in Cedar Falls hoping to find inspiration and direction for my writing. I got all I wanted plus much more. When I came home I worked on one story and submitted it to three publications. I continued to work on other projects and submitted several more before I again registered and attended the Christian Writer's Workshop in 2015. Again the Workshop delivered the inspiration and encouragement to write that I was seeking. When I came home that June I polished up three articles that were sitting in my file drawer, researched several publications and sent them off with a prayer.

"Lord, do you want me to continue to write? What is your will for me? If you want me to keep writing would you send me a sign? I don't know if this is how you want to use me in my retirement; please show me that there is some purpose in my writing - if that is what you want me to do."

In the past year I believe God has answered my prayers. In October 2015 I heard from a publisher who bought an article that is to be published sometime in 2016 (still waiting for a copy). Then in March 2016 I heard from another editor who bought a second story I wrote. It was printed in May. Then, nearly two years after my first submission I received a copy of a magazine with my article and photo, and a week later a check arrived.

Just as Pastor Scott said in his sermon yesterday, God still performs miracles and makes the impossible happen! Thank you, God for hearing my prayer and for being so gracious as to send me an answer.

I kick myself for missing the 2016 Workshop which happened right after we moved. Believe me I won't miss it again. But, I can't ignore God's answer to me about writing. I just hope He continues to give me direction about what to write next. I share this only to bring God the glory for His constant presence and listening ear. He cares enough to hear even my selfish, petty prayers. That just blows me away! How could I doubt Him?

"If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer" (Matthew 21:22 NIV).

"He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him" (1 Chronicles 5:20 NIV).

God answers your prayers, too. Sometimes we have to wait a while, sometimes we don't recognize the answer, sometimes we are too busy to notice. Take a moment today to consider the ways God has answered your prayers, and what do you need to ask Him today?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

School Days

School is starting this week in many places and I've enjoyed seeing the first day of school pictures on Facebook. It brings back memories of sending my own boys off to school and even of my own firsts.

I don't remember my first day of kindergarten, however we moved in March of that year and I do remember my first day of going to kindergarten class in a new school. I was very shy but I remember with special blessings that one friend who came up to me and said she would show me around. I have never forgotten her kindness and we are still friends today. I also remember my teachers, Miss Smith in one school to Mrs. Smith in the new school.

Most memorable was Brent's first day of school. It had been a busy summer with a new baby to get used to so I'm sure Brent felt some separation anxiety, having to share mom and dad with his new brother. He was a very good big brother and was very loving and caring. We lived in a mobile home in the country so the excitement was a big yellow bus rumbling down the dusty road and over the bridge to pick up this little boy of mine. The bus seemed enormous as he stepped up that huge first step and waved goodbye. I remember all the fears I had. No longer were we in control of what he was going to learn. We couldn't shelter him from the world or protect him from all of the dangers.

Brady's first day of kindergarten was another emotional day. I was relieved that his big brother would be with him to help him find his room or guard him from dangers. The hard part was putting the boys on the bus and walking back up the lane to the house alone. I cried all the way.

This year holds its own emotions: granddaughter number one, Paige, began her senior year yesterday, and little Graham started kindergarten. Calvin starts his junior year today with the first cross country meet of the year tonight. Payton enters middle school (6th grade) and Bailey is in fourth grade. Piper starts a new preschool next week. How did they grow up so fast?

Parents and grandparents have struggled with these stages in life for centuries. It is a time of entrusting our children to God for His protection and guidance.

"When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him...When he was 12 years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it...After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions" (Luke 2:39, 40, 42, 43, 46 NIV).

My prayers are with all the children starting school this month. May God watch over you, protect you, and place in your life good teachers and role models who will help guide you in growing up with faith. And prayers for all the moms and dads out there - may you seek God's wisdom as you parent your children through another year.

Monday, August 22, 2016


"I will shepherd the flock with justice. As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats...See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep...I will judge between one sheep and another" (Ezekiel 34:16, 17, 20, 22 NIV).

Yesterday I had the opportunity to watch my son Brady judge his first sheep show. I'm sure that didn't help his nerves any. I stayed out of sight for the first few classes and then moved into the bleachers to watch the show. After all these years of sheep shows, I'm still learning. I try to see what the pros see in a sheep. They just look like sheep to me. To the real judges the sheep are skeletons covered with muscle and mass. Like me, some of them carry a little too much fat. Others have basic skeletal problems (also like me) and a few are built perfectly but have 'freshness' issues, especially at this stage of the growing process.

Brady did a fine job of sorting through the sheep and also judging the youth for their showmanship abilities. Each judge is a little different in what he or she is looking for. Each one has different expectations and preferences so obviously the results may vary. We have run into several judges in the past who were looking for something that our lambs just didn't have. Sometimes we get lucky and a judge really likes our lambs. Those are great days.

I could never be a good judge; I'm too indecisive. And I certainly respect those who have to make judgements, even if I don't agree with their decisions. However, I don't respect those judges who allow money or power to influence their results. Brady makes a good judge because he knows so much about the physiology of a sheep and has years of experience feeding show sheep. He also is an individual who cares about other people, in particular the youth who were showing the sheep yesterday. He knows how hard the families work to get their sheep ready for a show, and he knows that young people need encouragement to keep working and getting better at a task.

I'm thankful we have a loving God who judges us with love and compassion and with grace and mercy.

"The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love" (Psalm 103:8 NIV).

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Fescue of Life

Living in the city has its differences from being in the country surrounded by pastures and ditches filled with weeds. We are discovering there is more required of lawns in town than there was on the acreage. When we moved here we thought our lawn looked pretty good. Neither neighbor had any yard yet. Since then both neighbors have had sod laid and are meticulous about watering their lawns. They have become lush and green. Ours, however, was sod that was now a year old and was watered only by rain.

We started noticing this weed growing within the grass and it was a lighter color and grew faster than the lawn. After several attempts of using weed killer we finally discovered it was fescue growing in our grass. Fescue is defined as various 'grasses' that are often used as pasture. The only thing that kills fescue is a chemical that also kills real grass. We also found out that fescue doesn't like water. It grows well in dry ground but watering keeps it under control. Facts we learned a little too late.

"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever" (Isaiah 40:6b-8 NIV).

Our lives are a lot like our lawn. Sometimes bad stuff starts to grow up in our lives and we don't always realize what is happening until it is too late. The bad stuff or sin begins to take over control of our lives and all of a sudden our appearance has become shaggy and blemished. Fortunately, we can make a change and get our life of grace and beauty back again if we immerse ourselves in God's word and focus our attention on Jesus.

Although it is going to take some time for us to get a nice looking lawn again, we have focused our attention on getting rid of the bad stuff and fertilizing the good grass, just as we need to do in life.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Iowa State Fair Reflections

I didn't do my Thursday blog because I was at the Iowa State Fair before 7 a.m. and I was too lazy to get up any earlier. So now, I have two days of the Fair under my belt and three more to go, I want to share some thoughts. Both Thursday and Friday started out rainy but cleared off by afternoon. I spent the mornings in the sheep barn watching the FFA Sheep Shows. Thursday Calvin showed three market lambs and Friday he showed one breeding ewe. He didn't do as well as he would have liked but received two very merited purple ribbons (the judge only gave two or three purples per class, a handful of blues and many reds). Calvin placed 3rd, 5th, 11th, and 3rd in his classes. His showmanship was excellent and the lambs looked really good. We are proud of all his hard work.

The afternoons were hot and a little humid but other than the muddy grassy areas and puddles of water to avoid it was a good time at the fair. Many people decided the same because the streets and sidewalks were a mass of people. Parking lots and neighborhood yards (also known as parking lots for the State Fair) were a huge mess. They always park the livestock trailers on Des Moines low lands so when the guys retrieved ours yesterday they were just thankful for 4-wheel drive and that they got out of the lot.

I walked the grounds to my favorite Fair spots on Thursday, braving the crowds and the golf carts. It takes patience to get where you want to go. I started with the Agriculture Building and its vegetables, bees, butter cow, and flower displays. Then on up to the Cultural/Arts Center especially to see the photography exhibits. I am so amazed at the beautiful photos that get no award and I don't always agree with the judges picks. When I read the list of how many photography entries there are in each class, I give up the thought of ever entering anything.

I walked back down the hill through the children's entertainment area, then along the Fair's Main Street to the Varied Industries Building. I don't know why I enjoy that so much but it reminds me of walking through with my parents as a child. Next was through the machinery, along the food vendor aisle and back toward the sheep barn. I enjoyed a corn dog, and two glasses of lemonade from the stand across the road from the sheep barn. I also took time to search for Graham and Piper's bricks in front of the sheep barn. Each grandchild has a brick there and I finally found them all.

Day two gave me the chance to walk the grounds with Payton and Bailey. We enjoyed the children's garden then went through the Agriculture Building where the girls enjoyed an egg on a stick. Since we still had enough time for a wait in the line we rode the sky glider together on the round trip. It was fun looking over the Fair Grounds, the top of trees, seeing all the people below and noticing places we had missed. The girls kept me calm while I shook with fear at the height. We found ice cream cones for the walk back to the sheep barn.

This was just the beginning as I will be there Sunday, Monday and Tuesday for the 4-H Sheep Shows that Payton is showing in.

"Never be lacking in zeal but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer," (Romans 12:11-12 NIV).

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Race Is On

I love the Olympics! Being retired during the Olympics is a dream come true. I enjoy hearing the personal stories of how hard the individuals worked, or the obstacles they overcame to achieve the right to participate in the 2016 Summer Olympics. I am in awe of the talents the athletes exhibit and find it amazing that records continue to be broken. I feel the heartbreak of those who miss their mark, finish in fourth place, or suffer an injury during competition. I feel proud of all those who finish their race or give their personal best and represent their country with honor, even without winning a medal.

"Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13b-14 NIV).

Every two years, the Olympics is a great reminder to Christians that we too have a goal to aim for and achieve in life. We need to focus on our heavenly goal and continue to strive toward it each day by keeping our relationship with Christ active and alive. We are continually pushing forward, seeking the prize of eternal life with our Heavenly Father.

The scripture in Philippians tells us to leave behind the stumbles, the defeats, the painful mistakes of our past and instead lean into the promise and goodness of the future.  I may never win a gold medal in the Olympics, but I can aim for the everlasting life of the redeemed. That prize shines brighter than all the world's gold, silver, and bronze medals put together. Race on, Christians, race on.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Just Jars of Clay

In the Bible, Paul describes our bodies as jars of clay.  The older I get the worse shape this 'jar of clay' is in. It has been through a lot and put on many miles. It feels like it is time to trade it in on a new model. There are chips and cracks and scrapes, but it is still able to hold a precious treasure that I sometimes take for granted or forget is there.

Inside this beat-up jar of clay is the gift of the Holy Spirit. God's power dwells in us, no matter what kind of shape we are in. The vessel isn't important. It's what it carries that matters. God has given us His power to work for Him, to shine for Him, to reflect the life of Jesus through it. By using our jars of clay we are able to touch others with His love and change lives forever.

No matter how fragile or broken our vessel has become, we still are empowered by God to do great things. He will use our weak and crooked bodies to shed light into someone else's darkness. He transforms our jars of clay into conduit that transmits hope into a sad and hopeless life. He fills us with His love that overflows and spreads out to the people we meet.

"For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God, and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body" (2 Corinthians 4:6-10 NIV).

May each of us use our humble jars of clay to carry God's message into the world that is so dark and troubled. May His power spill out and flood our neighborhoods with God's promises today.