Hidden Beauty

Rob mows the yard and pasture about once every ten days or so right now. In the summer it will more than likely be a weekly event. What I have been amazed by is how very quickly the clover pops back up. We get large patches of them all over our property and I enjoy their sweet smell.

I did recently learn something new about the plant. I thought the flower was the puffy white part and it sort of is but actually each one of those “petals” is considered an individual flower. Pretty cool, huh?

I am fascinated by wildflowers in general. I had noticed some tiny little purple flowers growing in the field while walking the dogs and grabbed my camera and extension tubes real quick so that I could photograph them before Rob and the mower made their way over to do their thing.

It’s like a whole secret world tucked away in grass and you might miss it if you aren’t trying to figure out if your dog is eating worms and such.

There were also tiny white flowers.

I really love moving in so close and creating such a narrow point of view…isolating such small details. I think what intrigues me the most is the knowledge that God creates such hidden beauty knowing that it isn’t always noticed or appreciated. Yet, he made them anyway and drops them in random fields. But they’re there declaring his goodness and beauty.

It’s Holy Week and it started by a declaration war. We tend to view Christ riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey humbly and graciously accepting the praise of the people. Our idea of the beauty of this scene is a soft and gentle watercolor.

In truth, he came riding in declaring himself victor of a war they didn’t even realize was about to be fought. They would see no beauty in the twisted crown of thorns or the jagged wooden cross but their seemingly unholy loveliness would pierce the darkness of sin and death to reveal the greatest beauty ever seen…the empty tomb.

God is the master Creator and from the beginning of time his delight has been to tuck beauty into the most uncommon and unexpected places. There is a beauty and truth and goodness in every circumstance you may be facing because he is there. Look for it. Look for him. And rejoice that your King lives and reigns.

Friday Favorites ~ My Week

It started on Sunday, really. I felt a bit spoiled. A dear friend at church blessed me with my second Willow Tree figurine.

Isn’t she lovely? I now have two pieces so I can officially say I have a collection.

Right after that lovely gift another sweet woman in our church gifted me with one of her beautiful hand made necklaces. She gets her glass mostly from Italy I believe and uses a blowtorch to shape and create her beads. I now have my very own bluebird of happiness. If you want to see more of Ms Helen’s delicate work you can visit her etsy shop. Such beautiful craftsmanship!

And then one of the sweet kids gave me a lovely coloring page. I told you I felt spoiled with all that love being shown to me!

This week I finally got my fat quarters unwrapped and washed. (Remember them? I shared them in a post at the end of February.) I’m not going to lie, looking at that pile of fabric makes me a little nervous but I figure since this is a just because quilt I can take my time and do it little steps at a time. The plan at the moment is to get them ironed and then cut into smaller squares. I will keep you posted on my progress with this particular favorite thing.

One favorite thing I did this week was spend some time with my camera and these really really cool flowers I got at the grocery store. I don’t know what kind they are but how cool are they?

Emily and Hays got back from their honeymoon on Monday. I already got a text asking for a recipe and that made this mama’s heart glad. It also makes me glad that they will come visit us next weekend. And my heart gets downright joyous thinking about Easter when they will come again and so will Sarah and Devon. All my people will be home!

Hays shared some of the pictures he took on their honeymoon and I am going to wrap us this week’s Friday favorites post with a couple that I really loved. Glacier National Park sure is a beautiful place, isn’t it?

How cute is Em in this picture?

Have a great weekend, y’all!

DPP ~ Day 16

We finally got a tree up last night and decorated tonight so you can probably expect a little more glittery and sparkly posts in the next few days.

It is actually an artificial tree because the live ones we found locally didn’t balance cost and prettiness at all and it is just too late timewise to go to the cutting farm a little ways away from here. But I really am surprised by how much I love it. Early in our marriage we had an ugly artificial tree. (My love has come a long way from Grinch to Kringle and literally suggesting we put our first Christmas tree in the spare room. Thank goodness for church calendars and becoming more liturgical.)

For those who might be new to my world my son is nineteen and autistic. It has made for some fabulous stories through the years and one of my all time favorites involves that ugly fake tree we had for years and Sam when he was around eight or nine. I had drug the Charlie Brown looking tree out of the attic and was working very hard to assemble and coax some fluff into the branches when Sam comes strolling through the living room and casually says, “Hey, Oswald is back!” and just as casually kept walking toward the kitchen.

When we put the tree up last night I floated the idea by him of naming this one Oswald Jr but it was a no go. Instead we now have a seven and a half foot beautiful prelit tree named Oscar. He is quite dazzling and per the girls’ request he is bedecked in red and gold.

The December Photo Project

Happy first day of the December Photo Project! I have been participating in this yearly event for about eight years now and I am so ready for it this year because, hello? Global pandemics have a way of taking it out of you!

Honestly, the start of covid had very little negative impact in my life. As a matter of fact the lockdown was practically pleasant because it brought all of our normal hustle and bustle to a halt. I am grateful for the way my local and state government has handled the situation but the last few months have begun to take their toll despite that. Our world has become brittle and so quick to flare in anger and ugliness and it is hard to not give over to the fog of anxiety.

Life is hard right now and I have felt it in my soul. It takes work not to be overcome or pressed down. For a lot of people I know they fought back by jumping into the holiday spirit early and with gusto. More power to them and for this year I have no judgement for early decorating, blaring the Christmas tunes, and going ahead and buying that eggnog in October. I get it. I almost did the same because how are your spirits not lifted by twinkle lights?

But I made myself wait. It had become as much of a spiritual battle for me as a mental one. I needed to lean into the darkness. To feel the sense of almost hopelessness that was as effective at sucking the life out of us as the hot humid summer air.

Because I needed to put my hope outside of this place. I didn’t want a distraction, I wanted deliverance. To see the brokeness and know that a promise had been made and a promise had been kept. I needed to yearn for the first match flare of the Advent candle as a reminder, as a comfort, that still another promise has been made and will be kept.

The world needed a Messiah and He came. He was born and He lived and He died and yet lives again.

He has come.

He will come.

So now I inhale the deep promise of His faithfulness and I look past the darkness to the hope of Christ and my soul is quieted, I find peace.

And because He is more kind than we deserve He lets us have the rhythm of times and seasons and the joy of rituals. A small but so enjoyable means of grace in each year for me is the fun of joining other people from all over in a photo project the month of December. Sometimes I will get my big camera out and other times it will just be a quick grab with my cell phone but every day (or nearly abouts) I will share a picture from my day. A visual diary of all that is good and fun and beautiful. And there is much of that to be found even in the midst of a pandemic.

One way of coping with the odd times we find ourselves in is by finding the humor in it. Maybe it has something to do with the old adage, “If I didn’t laugh I would cry”? I know I have been a amused by various things in 2020 and as I was preparing cards that I will be selling at a Christmas Market this weekend I hopefully channeled some of the whimsical haha of the year.

I don’t know if others will find it as funny as I do but making a Christmas tree out of toilet paper rolls seemed sort of fitting to my way of thinking. I hope it tickles your funny bone too. And I also love a good word pun hence the “Merry Christmas Dear!” with the cute little jewel on his nose.

DPP 2020 ~ Day 1

Think On These Things Week Three ~ Joy

The Ransomed Shall Return

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;

it shall blossom abundantly
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the LORD,
the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And a highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.

And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. 

~Isaiah 35

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Our 12 Days of Christmas

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Celebrating Christmas for twelve whole days can seem a bit daunting at first and people are usually quite curious when they hear it’s what we do in our family. Hopefully, this post will clear up some of the mystery and answer the “What does it look like?” question we usually get.

But let me take a minute and answer the second most asked question we get.

“Isn’t it expensive?”

Well, yes and no. In the long run we probably do spend a little bit more than we used to. Honestly, I prefer the deliberate and meaningful generosity in this way of gift giving though. And to be clear we are a single income family. A single pastoral income…we’re not talking big bucks here so I work at planning in order to be as frugal as possible. Also, since it is spread out over time that means the cost is spread out too. And hello after Christmas sales! I have found that I am bound more by my creativity than I am by money constraints. Some days are more expensive than others but none of them have to be a huge expense. For us there are just some things we do not do often during the year because it’s expensive for a family of our size to do them and they become the perfect gift for one of our 12 days.

For example two family outings that we do not typically do during the year are going to the movies or eating out as a family. Just about everywhere has gift certificates or cards these days so I can purchas them well ahead of time and tuck them away until our movie day or dinner out.

How this looks seven or eight years in is different from how it looked when we first started. And this year will look different because Sarah, our oldest, works all but three or four of the days. Plus she has her own apartment. (It was really sweet back in June when she moved out…three of her siblings voiced their concern over how we would handle Christmas this year.)

But the great thing is that we have a basic framework in place so it’s not a complete overhaul each season. I basically just add a few things in the empty spots around what I call our anchor days. These are the days that are non-negotiable and happen every year.

Christmas Morning ~  They always get that one thing they have really been wanting. They also open their presents from the grandparents but it’s one gift from their father and myself.

Giving Days ~ This didn’t come into being until several years after we started but honestly it’s one of my favorite things about our celebration. Each one of the kids has their giving day when the do not receive anything but they give gifts to each of their siblings. They also get to pick out and prepare a meal of their choice for the family. Sarah’s meal has evolved to include another family and she and Mary will plan a delicious and fancy dinner that usually takes them all day to prepare. Sam usually chooses tacos. Obviously the personalities of the kids make these days what they are.

Favorite Things Basket ~ This is something the kids look forward to every year and cannot be left out. I get a large basket and buy all the fun stuff that I always or nearly always say no to. Giant jars of nutella and Biscoff cookie spread. Lemon curd. Yoohoo drinks. Pop Tarts. V8 Fusion. Certain cereals. Particular chips or snacks. All the things that either don’t fit our everyday grocery budget or are so awfully bad for you that I can’t do it on a regular basis. No off brands either, the real deal name brand. Something everyone will enjoy but some things are put in because of a specific child. Like the lemon curd. Anyone can enjoy some but it is in there because Claire loves it. Sometimes if I find a cheap dvd of a childhood favorite movie or game I will add that into the basket as well.

Ice Cream ~ This activity originally started out as a trip to our local frozen yogurt shop with another family that does not mark the 12 days as we do but it has become as much a tradition for them as it is for us. We’ve got some hilarious stories to come out of this yearly adventure and the telling of them is all part of the process. Although this year we have options because a Baskin Robbins opened and a place called Tastes Buds. My money is leaning toward Taste Buds because they have these amazing freak shakes. (This is where planning ahead helps. The money for this outing has already been tucked away in a sock drawer.)

Day Twelve ~ We always end our celebration with their Christmas stocking and this is where those after holiday sales really shine. Apparently I put tooth brushes and such in them last year and I have been informed that is a no-no. I also forgot the Mementos and apparently those must come back.

So for our family, five kids plus the other four anchor days, means nine of the days require nominal planning to happen. The remaining three days can be an individual gift for each of them, an activity, or an outing of some sort.

Here are some ideas that we’ve done.

A book day. Sometimes we pick the books out and gift wrap them and a few times we’ve planned a jaunt to Barnes and Noble and everyone got to pick out their book.

We have also done a music day and everyone either received sheet music, records or cds. A shoe day (with four girls someone is always seeing cute shoes they want or need.)

We’ve had a game day and everyone got some kind of card or board game. Some friends of ours do their own version of this and spend the day playing games.

Doing things with another family adds to the festivities and fun. We’ve done gingerbread house contests with friends when our kids were younger. It got so big one year we had to do it at the church. One year we packed a picnic dinner and went to see Christmas lights with another family. One of the first families to join us in the 12 days knows a lot of stuff about hockey and they began the yearly tradition of a hockey game. We usually  go to dinner (Sonny’s Bar B Que) and an Ice Flyers game and sometimes the kids ice skate afterwards. There was utter shock expressed when I mentioned it might not happen this year due to work schedules conflicting with the game schedule. I’ve no idea why it is so or why my normally peace loving non-violent children become blood thirsty hooligans but that’s just the way it is.

The ideas and possibilities are really endless. Have a gift card day! Pick up random gift cards throughout the year and spend a day using them. You can choose to do a service project as a family, visit a nursing home, have a baking day and then deliver the goodies to the local fire or police department. Invite people to join you. No matter how small the activity or actual gift may be celebrate big.

Because really what we are celebrating is the most extravagant gift that has ever been given. We are echoing the generosity of our Father who sent His Son to not just rescue us from death and hell but to give abundant life. We celebrate robustly and fully because that is the life we have been granted in Christ.

Think On These Things Week Two ~ Peace

Comfort for God’s People

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.

And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

~Isaiah 40:1–5

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