Dear Daughter Who Loves Butterflies

NOTE: ‘Tis a season of transition. The much-anticipated college years are here in full force. Our oldest just moved into her dorm suite (750 miles away) a little more than a week ago, and our youngest starts early college in just a few days. The following letter is the “you’re off to college now” letter I wrote to our oldest. I share it and pray that it may bring some sweet bit of comfort or encouragement to my friends who are also in this weighty moment of transition or soon to be.

Dear daughter who loves butterflies,

As the last sticky bits of strawberry jam disappear down the drain, I immerse the glass jar into the soapy water and remember countless jars just like it that we cleaned and saved for your butterfly collection. You certainly have had a fascinating relationship with butterflies for most of your childhood.

This fascination was probably already developing, but I don’t think I noted it before that last month of Kindergarten when we raised those painted lady butterflies. “You can’t be a caterpillar all your life!” you emphatically encouraged a slow caterpillar. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Remember “Butterfly Meadow” and how we stood there in wonder as the butterflies hesitated a good long while? Did they not see how bravely we had unzipped their habitat, expecting them to rush out?

Did they not realize we were setting them free to fly high and far? Eventually they fluttered off, and you chased one of them far into the field. Letting go felt bittersweet and confusing and glorious all at once.

Since that noteworthy morning, we have added more memories of raising and releasing painted lady butterflies and monarchs, too.

You have collected jars of butterfly specimens to study, painted watercolor butterflies, crocheted butterflies, and folded more origami butterflies than anyone else in the history of ever. As I was typing up these thoughts earlier this month, you handed me your newest creation: a macrame butterfly keychain. Of course!

Although you have successfully caught butterflies (and dragonflies and fireflies, too!) with your bare hands, you have not stopped chasing butterflies – across fields, apple orchards, gardens and parking lots.

But earlier this summer, it was like the tables had turned, and the butterflies began chasing you! How did it happen that not one but TWO butterflies landed on you while you were sitting in the middle of a yellow innertube, floating in the middle of a river, near the Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee? How kind and gentle of you to give the one butterfly a safe ride to the riverbank. All joy!

Like those lovely painted lady butterflies from your Kindergarten science project, you also hesitated a bit when I thought you were ready to be released into the world. You didn’t rush off. You dared to go slow. You took a gap year to work and write and serve. You explored your options carefully.

Frankly I wasn’t quite sure what to think of that plan at first. It was hard to see you not take off when so many of your friends left for college. It was hard and a little heartbreaking to be in a place of not knowing what was next for you, even though we treasured every moment of our “bonus year” with you at home.

But looking back I see how God had plans for your writing. TWO BOOKS! And I see how God was answering our prayers for wisdom and discernment. He was guiding your steps, preparing your heart for this big move. And now, in obedience to Him, you are flying off to where God is calling you – flying to a new city in a new state with a different climate and with friendly people who speak in lovely southern accents.

Letting you go so far away (a full day’s drive!) feels both scary and sacred. It’s bittersweet and confusing and glorious all at once.

Life in our family won’t ever be quite like this again. And that is why I hold on tight. I thank God as I joyfully tag along to all the last things before you leave home – a dentist appointment and an orthodontist appointment, a trip to the library and a trip to the movies. I hold on tight as we listen to that audiobook or spin around on the newly installed tree swing, as we go on a last-minute sailing excursion or grab lunch at the place with your favorite salad bar and have a deep discussion about biblical manhood.

As we take family pictures and selfies and fill these days carefully, the song lyrics to “These Days” by Love & the Outcome fill my head and my heart.

These are the days, these are the days / The days we’ll never get back

These are the days, these are the days / And these days are all we have

I don’t wanna miss, miss / The moments slip away

It’s a gift, a gift / Every breath you take

Wake up, wake up / Feel your heart beating

Wake up, wake up / Alive and you’re breathing

And so, filled with gratitude and wonder at the gifts and the time we’ve been given, I wake up. I breathe deeply. I dry the inside of the empty jar. What treasures might you fill it with in this next chapter of life, I don’t quite know. I set it aside for you anyhow.

These new days ahead are like empty jars, ready to be filled with beauty and joy and wonder. As you study God’s word and His creation, as you worship and fellowship with new friends, and as you discover more of the good plans He has for you, I pray.

May goodness and mercy chase after you all the days of your life, like you chase after butterflies. May you recognize and welcome that goodness and mercy when it lands on you in the most unexpected places. May you always remember that “The best is yet to come.” May you hold on tightly to God’s promises and trust Him always. He is faithful.

C.S. Lewis encourages us, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

So go forth, go find something marvelous to fill that empty jar.

And fly high, my beautiful, lovely Butterfly! God made you to soar! (Isaiah 40:31)

Love,

Mama

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2 NIV

*photo cred: @lilahutchphotos

2022 Battle Plan now available!

I just finalized the 2022 Battle Plan: A Weekly Scripture Memory and Gratitude Journal. All the content aligns with the Fighter Verses Set 2, and the best part is that I laid out the Bible memory work alongside a personal gratitude journaling space to simplify these spiritual disciplines. My prayer is that this book encourages you to start or continue hiding God’s Word in your heart. You can order books at cost directly through Blurb, using the link below.


An Apple Adventure

Autumn means apple season, so today the girls and I took a little afternoon trip to the orchard.

I discovered the tire swing is still irresistible to these two.

This was our first visit to this particular orchard, and despite having a map and instructions for where to find which specific apple varieties, we kept heading off in the wrong direction and then needing to turn around and head off in the right direction. We never truly got lost in the woods. And certainly when the woods look this astonishing, nobody complains.

Eventually we found the Sweet 16 apples in a far-off row in the back of the orchard. They were a little past their prime, so our soon-to-be-sweet-16 just picked one to pose with.

She’s had a sweet tooth for apples for at least 15 years now.

Checking that off the list, we headed off toward the front of the orchard to find some apples for baking pies and dumplings.

My heart is like a singing bird

Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;

My heart is like an apple-tree

Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit.

Christina Rossetti

September Shines

step into our nature walk

My youngest and I took a short nature walk with our cameras yesterday evening. It had been far too long since we spent time outdoors, and the shining spectacle that is “September in Minnesota” was calling. We didn’t have much time before the sun sank behind the trees, but we captured some images to share. May you smell the earthy-sweet scent of the fallen leaves as you scroll.

sinking September sun
shadows growing long
shutterbug in action
swans trumpeting across the lake
sunshine on the asters
slowly turning maple leaves
a spider’s lake home
shutterbug shooting another shutterbug
the splendid start of fall colors in the treetops
a September sunset in the land of the sky-tinted waters

Rejoicing in the LORD

(revised from Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Though the choir should not sing its songs,

Nor ballerinas take the stage;

Though the sanctuary sits dusty and silent,

And a never-worn prom dress hangs;

Though the old and sick be abandoned,

And the grieving mourn unembraced;

Yet I will rejoice in the LORD;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the LORD is my strength;

He makes my feet swift and graceful like the dancer’s;

He puts a song of joyful praise in my mouth,

And it rises with hope higher than the heavens.

Be Armed for 2021

Let’s take up the sword of the Spirit, let’s be watchful, and let’s be thankful.

God only knows what’s in store for us in 2021. No doubt, it will be a battle for joy and contentment. A battle to kill sin. A battle against the enemy, the father of lies.

How will you arm yourself, friend?

The apostle Paul encourages us to put on the full armor of God. In Ephesians 6:16-17, he says “…take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

So for 2021, let’s take up the sword of the Spirit and commit to memorizing the word of God. Let’s be watchful for God’s goodness in our lives. And let’s be thankful for His abounding grace each and every day.

My 2021 Battle Plan is a 104-page journal that includes artwork for each of the 52 Fighter Verses for 2021, as well as space to jot down whatever I am thankful for each day.

The struggle is real, but God equips us. Second Corinthians 9:8 says that “God is able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

Order your own weekly journal at cost ($8.19 plus shipping and tax) through Blurb.

Thanksgiving is a Hunt

Whatever makes you smile, whatever is pure, noble, lovely, excellent or praiseworthy, that’s a gift from God. That’s a reason to thank Him. And that’s a reason to trust Him with whatever unknowns 2021 may bring.

The frigid November air pierces right through your bones. The forceful, whirling wind blasts on and on with a long, lonesome howl.

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The trees, so gloriously ablaze with color just yesterday, now stand bare and thin and gray.

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And in the front yard, 10,000 leaves pile up shin-deep, each a sorrowful reminder of how dry and lost this month — this whole year — feels.

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We live in a fallen world, and in a year like 2020, well it can make life seem hopeless. It can make your heart feel as cold and lonely as the wind. It can make your soul feel as dark and bare as the tree branches. And in our disappointment, we must decide: To complain or to be content? To grumble or to be grateful? To reject the entire 12 months as a blur of frustration, or to receive every moment of it with thanksgiving?

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Will my mind and my mouth choose to thank God for all His goodness, even when His goodness doesn’t feel warm and green and vibrant? Even when His goodness feels brown and bare and bitter cold? Even when His goodness seems hidden in the darkness of lockdowns and riots and loss?

In his song “10,000 Reasons,” singer and song-writer Matt Redman encourages us to keep singing praises to God – whatever may pass and whatever lies before us – because God has given at least 10,000 reasons for our hearts to find. Oh, my soul, keep singing, even when the health department tells me to shut my mouth.

Oh, my soul, keep hunting. Forget any anxious search for safety. Forget that futile striving for the normalcy of 2019. Forget any hope in the government. Remember what you’re really hunting for this November.

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Remember you’re on an easy hunt for God’s abundant goodness. Remember how, even in 2020, His goodness piles up higher and deeper than 10,000 fallen leaves. Even in 2020, His goodness surrounds me, and I can smile.

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So remember to look around you, friend, and see God’s love for you. Is it a steamy cup of hot cocoa that warms your hands? A loved one’s unexpected text that brightens your afternoon? A glimpse at the setting sun glowing through pink clouds?

Whatever makes you smile, whatever is pure, noble, lovely, excellent or praiseworthy, that’s a gift from God. That’s a reason to thank Him. And that’s a reason to trust Him with whatever unknowns 2021 may bring.

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This Thanksgiving 2020, let’s be truly thankful. Let’s hunt for God’s goodness. Let’s rake up 10,000 reminders of His goodness. Let’s joyfully sing and let’s celebrate by thanking Him like never before.

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“They celebrate Your abundant goodness
    and joyfully sing of Your righteousness.”

Psalm 145:7

2020 Scripture Memory Calendar

I made a book! It’s a weekly calendar book with a spread for each week of 2020. It features each of the 52 Fighter Verses for Set 5 and includes space for recording what you are thankful for each day. If you record three items each day, you will have thanked God for more than a thousand things by the end of 2020. I did the layout and typography, and my teen daughters helped with some of the watercolor backgrounds. You can preview the calendar and purchase yours through this link. Happy 2020!

Book Review: Adorning the Dark

When I first heard that Andrew Peterson, a songwriter, recording artist, and fiction-writer, was releasing a non-fiction book titled Adorning the Dark, I pre-ordered it right away because Andrew’s work really resonates.

About 18 months ago, I fell in love with his amazing song “Is He Worthy?” and really his entire album titled Resurrection Letters Volume I. His folksy songwriting style brings to mind Caedmon’s Call, the Ragamuffin Band, and the late Rich Mullins, a very gifted musician whose songs I first heard in college and still enjoy listening to a couple decades later.

Reading Adorning the Dark, I learned that those same artists actually influenced and encouraged Andrew early in his music career. Likewise, Andrew is himself a Barnabas type. He’s committed to encouraging other artists — whether they are musicians, writers, or painters. He’s been doing so for years through his ministry The Rabbit Room, which fosters Christ-centered community and spiritual formation through music, story, and art. And now his book Adorning the Dark extends that ministry in the form of a memoir/handbook.

One big take away from the book is the emphasis not just on writing but also on finishing. Every artist is tempted to slow down or get distracted or quit altogether, and so Andrew reminds his readers, “…it is only by discipline that you’ll finish, and it is only in finishing that you’ll be able to offer up your humble work to those weary souls who may need it.”

Adorning the Dark highlights the need to serve the work and serve the audience, too. Andrew writes, “Those of us who write, who sing, who paint, must remember that to a child a song may glow like a nightlight in a scary bedroom. It may be the only thing holding back the monsters. That story may be the only beautiful, true thing that makes it through all the ugliness of a little girl’s world to rest in her secret heart. May we take that seriously. It is our job, it is our ministry, it is the sword we swing in the Kingdom, to remind children that the good guys win, that the stories are true, and that a fool’s hope may be the best kind.”

If you’re like me and have a few unfinished creative projects gathering dust, Adorning the Dark may be just the encouragement and inspiration you need to carry it on to completion for the sake of adorning this dark world with the light of Christ.

Side note: As I write this during Advent, I am listening to Andrew Peterson’s album Behold the Lamb, which I highly recommend. And I’d be remiss not to suggest that Andrew’s fantasy-adventure series, The Wingfeather Saga, would make an excellent gift for any young readers on your Christmas list. My kids have thoroughly enjoyed the series and are hoping to soon update their personal libraries with the new hardbacks that feature captivating new cover art and illustrations.

 

 

 

Going to Grandma’s House

“Over the river and through the wood, to Grandmother’s house we go! The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted snow…”

So begins the famous poem penned by Lydia Maria Child in 1844. I remember no horse-drawn sleigh or drifty snow, but I do remember singing this joyfully with my mama on the way to Grandma’s house.

Nearly everyone likes to share memories of going to Grandma’s house. It’s a noteworthy destination. Like most folks, recollections of my grandma’s house include memories of what she cooked. Savory chicken and dumplings topped the list, followed closely by homemade noodles with roast beef, peanut butter and brown sugar sandwiches, and cherry chocolate cake.

At Grandma’s house, I remember quiet mornings reading through piles of Reader’s Digest or being fitted for pretty Easter dresses and warm winter sweaters Grandma was creating just for me. I remember spending lazy summer afternoons outside playing with a dog named Sue and spinning my big brother plum dizzy on the tree swing. And I remember evenings filled with fiercely competitive games of dominoes or cards — Grandma was always the scorekeeper — sometimes followed by an Eskimo pie for dessert.

But unlike other folks, recollections of my grandma’s house aren’t confined to any one particular house. That’s because my grandparents moved. A lot! It’s a wonder their issues of Reader’s Digest kept coming. I think I counted 10 address changes for my grandma just in my lifetime, including two moves out of state, as well as at least two RVs and a vacation home in Arizona for a while. I vividly remember my mama lamenting about all the times she had moved and had to change schools as a child, mostly before she finished elementary school. And I know Grandma moved several times as a child herself.

Grandma was always moving. And for me, the kid who spent her entire childhood living in the same red brick house on 27th Street, this moving thing was completely foreign. I never even moved bedrooms until I went off to college. I stayed put. And everybody else’s grandma stayed put, it seemed.

But my grandma didn’t stay put. She liked the adventure of moving somewhere new, and her face lit up as she described the rooms of the place she was moving to next. I remember her telling me all about the Coweta house before they moved into it. She told me about its bright sun room with south-facing windows and its sunken dining room with rich red carpet and an arched doorway. With rooms like that, it sounded more like a palace than a house!

Partly because she was always moving — but mostly because she was a very intelligent lady, valedictorian of her high school class — Grandma never had trouble with directions. I suppose Grandpa might firmly disagree with me here, particularly if we were discussing the direction from which a vacation photograph was taken. But from my perspective, Grandma always knew which way was north. And she always knew the way to get where she needed to go. She had no trouble tracking down her children and grandchildren, scattered far and wide in various states, long before the days of iPhones or Google maps.

One of Grandma’s favorite Bible verses, which she carefully referenced in the inside cover of the Bible she gave me at age 11 — was Proverbs 3:5-6. It says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.” It’s no wonder Grandma knew the way. She had God giving her directions at every intersection!

Even though she never suffered from being directionally challenged, Grandma endured plenty of trouble in life. She was born in the middle of a fierce March snow storm in western Oklahoma. At a young age, she experienced the loss of her parents’ farm, thanks to a crooked banker. She persisted through the Great Depression and came of age during World War II. She raised chickens and three kids on a farm. And whether she was selling fresh eggs, transcribing business correspondence in shorthand, or posing high school seniors for portraits, Grandma put in many hard hours as a working woman and small business owner. After retiring, she lost her oldest daughter, my mother, to cancer. And in 2006, she lost her beloved husband Lloyd.


In this world Grandma had many joys and sorrows, plenty of work to do, and countless troubles to get through. But now she has left all that behind. She has moved yet again.

Jesus tells us in John 14:2-3, “In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”

I would love to hear Grandma describe this new house with so many rooms. Is she feasting in a great dining hall with luxurious red carpet? What direction does the front of the house face? And how bright is the Son room where Jesus meets her face to face in all His glory?

The Reverend Billy Graham, who passed away exactly two weeks before Grandma, said this: “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

I wasn’t there for Grandma’s last moments here in this world of troubles, but the one word everyone in my extended family used to describe those moments was “peaceful.” Grandma has gone peacefully into the presence of God. She has changed her address one last time.

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” These words of Jesus, as recorded in John 14:27, give me much peace as I remember and honor my grandma today.