Tasting of Joy and Sorrow

It has been an eventful holiday season, one with a variety of experiences and emotions.  Over Thanksgiving, my parents and brother spent several days with us.  The men worked on projects including siding and electrical around our house and the camp.  The women and children baked Christmas cookies, some to eat and some to give away.  We feasted, played games, opened some birthday presents, hiked around looking for wild horses, gazed at a beautiful water fall, and had some good discussions.  The time was extra special because my brother had just come out of prison after three and a half years.  He talked of taking pleasure in the simple things of life: working hard, spending time with family, and enjoying nature.  He seemed really well, and we all had hopes for a fresh start.  He returned home, found a job, was working hard and long hours, and spending time with his children.

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Thanksgiving Dinner
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Hiking at Dingo

Early December 11, my parents called to tell us that the coroner had appeared at their door, that my brother had been found dead, most likely of a drug overdose.  He was thirty-four years old.  The shock was profound: life forever changed, hopes dashed, family altered.  Over the next few days, plans were made; and many people reached out.  There was the hustle and bustle of visitation, the funeral, and the burial.  Various emotions came and went: sadness for what could have been, grief for what has been lost, anger for wrong choices, questioning addiction and how God looks at all of this, comfort in God’s mercy and the peace He brings, joy in the love shown by family, friends, and acquaintances. In some ways, it all still seems a bit surreal, like a bad dream from which one hopes to awaken.

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A blessing from our Sunday school class.

But life goes on: December 18, our oldest turned sixteen.  For several years, he has been anticipating learning to drive.  A few days later, he passed his permit test.  A new adventure begins!

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Sixteen Candles!

Christmas this year was spent with my husband’s family in Ontario.  We enjoyed reconnecting with his parents, siblings, and their families.  With the temperatures in the single digits and several snow falls, we surely experienced winter.  We quickly realized our shoes were of no use and ended up wearing boots the rest of the time there.  The children and their cousins enjoyed indoor hockey and volleyball, sledding, and riding around on GT snow sleds connected to an ATV.  Some of them shoveled snow and helped with farm chores as well.  The snow made the towns and countryside look beautiful, but my husband was glad to leave all of the driving in it behind!

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Hockey!  (Our four are in the middle.)
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Shoveling off the Deck (Notice the thermometer: -8 C, one of the warmer days!)
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Walking in a Winter Wonderland (Photo credit to my husband)
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Beautiful countryside (Photo credit to my husband)
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Blue skies/ cold temps (Canadians can be hard-core: Look at those sheets hanging!)

Today, as we are on the verge of a new year, I am thankful for God’s grace and provision through the past months.  There have been joyous times, and there have been days of sorrow as well.  Through it all, I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.

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Autumn Color

Here in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky, fall has arrived later than usual.  This past weekend, we experienced our first cold snap of the season with a bit of snow in the higher elevations.  I had been remarking that the colors of the leaves were not as intense as some years; but today as we went about, I realized autumn splendor has arrived.

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The view from our home in town.
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Downtown

There are some beautiful trees around town; but as I drove up the mountain this afternoon, the sight was magnificent.  Driving up and down the trail, I felt like I was in a colorful kaleidoscope.  Even though it was cloudy and a bit foggy, the foliage was glorious!

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There is just nothing like Autumn in the mountains!  All praise to the Artist, our Creator God!

Vacation and Return

After full weeks of hosting summer volunteer groups, I was feeling spent; so having a time of relaxation and renewal was a blessing.  As a family, we experienced spiritual refreshment at Roxbury Holiness Camp, relaxed as we experienced Chincoteague and Assateague, and reconnected with family in a variety of settings.

At the ocean, the children frolicked in the waves both with and without boogie boards and created sandcastles on the beach.

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My husband and I enjoyed the water and sitting under an umbrella.  There is something quite soothing about the sound of the waves on the seashore.

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One morning, we climbed the winding stairs to the top of a lighthouse.  The view was amazing.  I felt dizzy as we peered over the railing.

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After a time away, it feels good to be home.  I was so glad to see that the gardens are still producing.  We picked green beans, corn, tomatoes, carrots, beets, squash, a cucumber, parsley, and various greens.  Fourteen quarts of beans were added to the freezer.

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Tonight we enjoyed a crock pot meal made of many ingredients from our garden including potatoes, onions, squash, tomatoes, parsley, and oregano.

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Praise the Lord for His gracious provision!

Blossoms, Gardening, Creatures, and a Sunset

This time of year, blossoms, both wild and domesticated, can be seen declaring the glory of God.  Every week, there seems to be a different type of flower in its peak.  In the woods, the wild azaleas are displaying their brilliant orange blooms; and by the lodge, the delicate purple flowers of the hostas have pushed up above the leaves.

 

I am always struck by the flow of plants through the spring and summer.  In the vegetable garden, the peas are nearly finished producing; but this week, the beans and tomatoes began to blossom, promising more produce in the weeks to come.

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What is in the box that has captured the attention of these children?  It’s a box turtle rescued from the trail.  The creature provided wholesome entertainment on a rainy day.  The next day, a ring neck snake in a box caused quite a stir among the kids.

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One evening, the sun was a bright fire ball slowly sinking behind the mountains.  A camera cannot fully capture its beauty.

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“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.”  -Psalm 19:1

Snapshots from the Week

The last few weeks have been full with finishing the school year and preparing for our summer season of volunteers; but it was fun to arrive at camp and find the peas, potatoes, and greens we had planted in April pushed up through the soil.  I was able to harvest a few radishes and salad greens, and we have pulled enough strawberries for the six of us to each have a few.

The iris, which is my favorite flower, were in full bloom.  I found a wild one blooming at the edge of the woods.

The children and I got the summer vegetables planted: beans, corn, several varieties of summer and winter squashes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers.  Teamwork made the job go quickly.  Our oldest pulled back the wood chips with a hoe.  Our daughter and I planted the seeds, and our two youngest boys took turns covering them up.  At the end of one row, we uncovered a salamander which the kids found to be a fascinating diversion.

Later in the week, after all the vegetables were planted, we were grateful for a lovely, soaking rain.

One morning, the clouds were rolling in over the camp; and I had to stop and thank the Lord for the beauty of the sky.

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That same morning, I admired the colors of our breakfast fruit salad.

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Our oldest spent quite a bit of time in the shop working on wooden creations.  This was his first chiseled piece.  Later, he made another and was excited that someone bought it.

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A few snapshots from the week!

Peace on Earth

At Christmas time, I am often moved by the Nativity plays, the beautiful carols, and the glow of candles; but this year, there were other images that moved my heart.  Over time, I have felt myself growing hard toward people and circumstances.  I have prayed that God would soften my heart; and this Christmas season, He did.

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Several incidents come to mind.  At a volunteer dinner, a choir consisting of women recovering from addiction sang with great strength,

“I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  I can’t tell you what’s in store.  I don’t know a lot of things.  I don’t have all the answers to the questions of my life, but I know in Whom I have believed.  He knew who I was when He carried my cross.  He knew that I would fail Him, but He took the loss.  And he knows my name, every step that I take, every move that I make, every tear that I cry.  He knows my name.  When I’m overwhelmed by the pain and can’t see the light of day, I know I’ll be just fine; cause he knows my name.”

Another group from the same program performed interpretive movement to “Peace on Earth”.  I felt my eyes prick as I thought, “What a beautiful sight to see these women healthy and lifting voices and hands to the Lord!”

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Christmas day, I witnessed two believers shaking hands: one a doctor clothed in a dress shirt, and one a man who is unable to read  and wearing flannel.  As they gripped hands in mutual respect, the doctor remarked that the other man was one of his best helpers.  My heart rejoiced at this display of friendship and equality within God’s kingdom.

The day after Christmas, I sat in the visiting room of a state prison.  Men of various ages, backgrounds, and cultures spent a bit of time with loved ones.  One man nestled a sleeping baby in his arms, one played a game with his two young daughters, several visited with older relatives, and the one which I sat beside shared with me his humor, his frustrations, and his hopelessness for the future.  My heart was moved.  He tells me there are two thousand men in that facility.  That is just one prison, in one state, on one part of the globe.  How God’s heart must long for His creatures!

Recently, written in a notebook, my husband came across a quote by Beth Clark.  “I’ve noticed something about people who make a difference in the world.  They hold the unshakable conviction that individuals are extremely important, that every life matters.  They get excited over one smile.  They are willing to feed one stomach, educate one mind, and treat one wound.  They aren’t determined to revolutionize the world all at one; they’re satisfied with small changes.  Over time, though, the small changes add up.  Sometimes they even transform cities and nations, and yes, the world.”

How about the church?  Where are the Christians?  I am challenging  myself as well.  Too many of us sit in our comfortable pews and homes when there are people who need us to risk ourselves to walk alongside them in their struggles.  How about business owners offering employment to someone with a record?  Could you offer to transport someone to work who has no driver’s license?  Would you invite someone struggling with addiction to your home to play cards or for a meal or dessert?  How about giving your phone number and being available to call when a way of escape is needed?  We admire missionaries who travel to far off countries to areas of danger, and rightfully so, but I believe God is calling us to risk ourselves and our comfort right where we are.  In so doing, may we share “Peace on Earth.”

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December Happenings

A Christmas parade was the first event of the season.  Our daughter rode with her dance studio on a gingerbread house-themed float.  She looked like royalty, waving at all the bystanders.  Their float won the Elfin Magic award which was for incorporating children into the theme.  Our oldest son rode with the Stables at Creekside Glen which was close to the end of the parade.  By then it was dark, and the parade was moving swiftly, so I did not get a good picture.  They rode on a wagon with horseback riders around it.  Our youngest two children eagerly gathered up candy and a stuffed bear that was tossed from firetrucks, floats, and cool cars.  My favorite entry was from a church called Rockvine which had constructed a replica of their stone church and a sleigh.  Watching the band march by always brings back memories of my own high school marching band days.

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Saturday we all worked hard to dig the leaves out of the ditches, take them down the hill, and dump them over the side of the mountain.  The job was physically demanding; but in the end, jumping in a leaf pile neck-deep was lots of fun.

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On the way to church on Wednesday, the sky was absolutely gorgeous.  I had to snap a picture and enjoyed spotting the city lights below.  On Thursday, while driving the kids to activities, we saw sun-dogs in the sky, so I pulled over to snap another picture.

 “The heavens declare the Glory of God.”

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September’s Show

As we move toward autumn and the days have lost a bit of summer’s heat, the wildflowers are putting on a show.

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The goldenrod, iron weed, and queen of the meadow are dressed in exquisite finery.

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Butterflies have noticed the bright beauty of the blossoms and have joined the dance as a gentle breeze plays among the blooms.

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Creation offers a glimpse of God’s goodness and beauty!

Change and Beauty

Recently, we moved from Main Street of an old coal town to the edge of a state forest atop the mountain.  The sounds of traffic and people were replaced by birds, frogs, rain, and trees swaying in the wind.  We transitioned from a lovely, spacious three-story house to a much smaller but equally lovely single-floor dwelling.  While we enjoyed the room of the larger home, we are finding the small house to be cozy, less to clean, and more condusive to family togetherness.  Although we have finished our home school year, our children have delighted in nature’s classroom.  Almost daily, one of them calls, “Mom come look at this.”  The finds have included a beautiful Luna moth, lots of giant millipedes, a chipmunk on our porch, and a large black beetle we observed carrying a round seed pod much bigger than itself.  We have watched the tulip poplars begin to blossom and the milkweed plants spring up along the road.  My favorite find has been wild lady slipper blossoms growing on the bank below our house.

First thing in the morning, I have enjoyed walks on the trail through pristine forest where the only sounds are nature’s music: the flute-like twitter of songbirds, the “coo coo” of the morning dove, and the percussive croaks and “scritch-scratch” of frogs by the pond.

I do not always welcome change, and transition can be difficult.  But once I am on the other side, I am reminded how God provides beauty wherever He plants us.  More and more, I have come to realize if we look for His good gifts and choose joy, we can be content in whatever situation we are placed.

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