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.