Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Our Trip to the Thomas Cole National Historic Site

I first discovered the art of Thomas Cole in 1994.  I had homeschooled my oldest daughter Bethany for a few years by then, using the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason.  That included having weekly Picture Study - a time to look at several paintings by a single artist, over the course of a school term.

We had been on a search for art prints from different sources, and we were glad to see a homeschool magazine highlight some that we could tear out and add to our collection.  A series on Thomas Cole appeared in the January issue, and we pored over Cole's "Voyage of Life,"  a visual allegory of man's passage through the river of life. Childhood - Youth - Manhood - Old Age - the hourglass, the angel, the changes in the sky and river bank and scenery - it was a feast for our eyes, as we sat together at the kitchen table and narrated to each other the details that we found in the four pictures.  

Soon we got to know Cole's Oxbow (View from Mount Holyoke), his five-part series "Course of Empire," his scenes of waterfalls, and all the other artists who were a part of this kind of painting:  Church, Cropsey, Innes, Durand, and Bierstadt.   Each depiction of wilderness and grandeur was more beautiful than the next. 

The magazine had rightly identified the location of the "Voyage of Life" paintings in a museum in upstate New York.  But there had been no mention that Cole painted a second set of the same paintings.  So when our little family walked through the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., a few years later, I gasped when I entered a room and found all four of Thomas Cole's "Voyage of Life" pieces right in front of us.

It's been several years since then.  Our family grew to four children, and now three of them have graduated high school.  Bethany is married with children of her own, and Hannah is engaged to be married. On her day off from work yesterday, Hannah and I took a trip to the home of Thomas Cole in Catskill, New York.

The town of Catskill is filled with differently painted cat sculptures , part of an annual artist exhibit. Last year when Bethany and her family were living and working at a camp in another part of New York state, we went through a town that had similar individual statues, only those were of ballerina shoes. 

We stopped for lattes at a little coffee shop with walls decorated with works by Hudson River artists.  Each table had a sprig of spearmint in a vase.  It was a good beginning before our tour!

The Thomas Cole National Historic Site is a beautiful place, in the heart of the Catskill Mountains. The mansion itself is where Thomas and his beloved wife Maria (the tour guide pronounced her name like Mariah) lived with their children, where Cole painted many of his magnificent works, and where they entertained people like writer James Fenimore Cooper. 

In front of the home stands a two-hundred-year-old honey locust tree.  It had sections of thorns protruding from the bark, and I marveled at its size. The tour guide said that honey locusts normally don't live that long, but they know its age for sure from an old photo.

The tour used technology in powerful but tasteful ways.  The parlor had frames on the walls, representative of the paintings Cole usually had hanging there as a kind of gallery.  Once our group sat down, the ten-minute presentation began:  a man's voice, with a slight British accent (Cole was born in England) spoke from Cole's writings, and it was against the backdrop of a changing media display of so much of Cole's art.

Everyone was moved by the expertly-done production, and it had even more meaning, knowing that we were in Thomas Cole's own home.

We went from there to the other parlor (east and west parlors, divided by the entry foyer), where the Cole family often spent time together.  There were musical instruments (one which Cole had created), drawings (including architectural designs that were used in the formation of the statehouse in Ohio), games for the children, and several books.  

There were table surfaces around the room with sensors, and when you approached them, media appeared of letters and quotes of Thomas Cole. 

And around the ceiling in both parlors were the two very different newly-discovered friezes that Cole had painted.  A couple of years ago, a curator noticed a piece of wallpaper had curled up; underneath it was a different color, and soon Cole's long-hidden handiwork would seen by the world. 

Upstairs in the house we saw the bedroom as it was then, with Cole's trunk, his top hat, and other personal items.  

The other large upstairs room was set up to show the creative process.  Cole's own palettes and paint box were there, his own chair, and many of his sketches.  There was information on how paints were mixed in those days, and Cole's own amazing color wheel.  A small shelf on the wall held a few books, listed as Cole's inspiration:  among them the Bible, Shakespeare's Complete Works, Downing's Rural Essays, and Paradise Lost.  

The tour of the house was complete, so we walked past gardens and headed toward the old studio.  

One half of the old barn housed the gift shop, filled with postcards, gifts, and the most wonderful books, as well as chairs set up in front of a screen that showed a short video on Cole's life.  

But the other half of the building was a studio that the prior owner of the house (Maria Cole's uncle, who raised her and her sisters) had set up for Thomas. 

Cole's actual easel was there, and a reproduction of the "Voyage of Life - Childhood," as this was where he painted the series.  

The light poured in from the northern window, and the tour guide spoke of happy times Cole spent there, and of when his children would come into the studio to see his paintings. 

Not far from the Thomas Cole home (also called "Cedar Grove") is the cemetery where he, Maria, and their family members are buried. Their grave stones each included portions of Psalm 23:  Thomas' stone declares, "The Lord is my shepherd," while Maria's states, "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."  Despite living an active life (he hiked frequently through the mountains he fought so hard to preserve), Thomas Cole was just 47 years old when he died of pneumonia. He was an important contributor to American art, he was a writer, poet, musician, architect, teacher, husband, and father.  

One of the joys of homeschooling my children has been sharing interests with them, not just while they are little, but - maybe especially - when they are grown.  When Hannah was a little girl, and at the time the youngest in our family, she and I went to the American Girl Place in New York.  I always remember the startled and delighted look on her face when she realized for this special day, she had me all to herself, and that she could lead the way through the many rooms filled with her favorite dolls and books.  Today, I felt that same feeling, to be able to go through the home of a revered artist, and to be able to enjoy it with my daughter.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


When I was a young girl, I heard the family story of how my paternal grandmother became an American citizen.  She had come to the United States from England when she was 18 years of age, and her naturalization happened long before I was born.  Ancestors on my mother's side came from Sweden through Ellis Island, but my grandparents were both born here a short time later. And I really don't know how far back my paternal grandfather's ancestors went in this country.  So family members becoming US citizens had not been a part of my experience. 

Until now. 

Niko has been with us for quite some time.  In September, it will be six years.  As with any life-altering event, at times it seems like I can't remember when he wasn't here. Other days, his arrival seems recent, raw, and still new.  Despite the years of hard things, of massive adjustment, of family forging, and of finding our way together, I will always remember the moment I first saw him walk through the swinging doors of the terminal at JFK airport in New York City - a little nine-year-old boy pulling the backpack-on-wheels that we had so carefully packed and sent him.  We had so much to learn about each other, about how to begin to heal the years of trauma, even as we knew adoption itself would be one more layer of trauma.  That learning continues, with love.

When Niko arrived on US shores, he was already legally our son.  We took the current advice and re-adopted him here in America, which was for the sake of paperwork.  However, coming into this country with an escort meant Niko had no proof of citizenship - he came in with a permanent resident card (which actually has green tones to it, hence the common name).  We would need to acquire citizenship through yet another bureaucratic route, and we would also need more money - over $600. 

Adoption is very expensive.  God had provided - and we were grateful.  But we didn't pursue citizenship then.  We figured we would get to it one day.  Then this past fall, word spread within the adoption community that the fee for adoption would double by the end of 2016.  While we didn't have $600, we certainly didn't have $1170, so we prayed and God provided.  We got the detailed forms completed, got Niko's passport-style picture taken, gathered and copied all the requested family documents, and sent it all in, special delivery. And then we forgot about it. 

About two weeks ago, a letter came in the mail:  we had our appointment at USCIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services).  It would be the following Saturday at 10 a.m.  

I tried not to panic, but Niko doesn't handle big public settings very well.  And then I realized what I had read not long before - that once a child reaches 14 years of age, that child must repeat the Oath of Allegiance.  The standard test for citizenship is waived for those who are naturalized due to their parents' citizenship (N-600), but this oath is required.  

I looked up the oath, and marveled at its scope and power:

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."

I had no idea how to communicate this to my 15 year old, who would be stuck at the first 'hereby.'  I didn't tell  him a whole lot about the oath, but we did talk about becoming a citizen.  "Why I not just be where I'm from?"  "You will always be 'where you're from,' that will never change.  But this is about freedom, about ideas, about voting, about being an American."  The part about voting intrigued him especially.  

The morning of the appointment, the five of us headed down to Newark.  Our oldest daughter had to work, but we sent her text updates.  We were so concerned about finding the federal building, locating a parking garage, and getting through security, that we walked into the USCIS office forty minutes early.  And so the wait began. 

We were on the fifteenth floor, in a room with over a hundred people.  Every couple of minutes, one of the eight employees behind a bank-teller style counter called out a name.  I admired the ability to pronounce these names, as they came from so many different countries. All around us, people were waiting, playing with children, looking on their phones (despite the sign that said no cell phones), or speaking together in other languages.  

About 11:00, Niko's name was called.  He and I went to the front, and a kind worker asked a few questions, I showed him some ID, and we surrendered the green card.  He then had Niko sign his name five different times on a couple of documents.  The man handed Niko a small American flag, said 'Congratulations,' and told us to wait for the ceremony where Niko would receive the paper he had just signed. 

We waited another hour, and then it happened - all those in our category were told it was finally our turn.  We walked down the hall - and into a large, lovely room, with a wall of windows, all opening up on this beautiful day to show Newark below (this was the 15th floor, after all) and the entire New York City skyline:  the Empire State building at midtown, the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero, and I knew somewhere unseen down there and over a bit was Lady Liberty.  

On one wall there was an immense flag (I later read that it had flown over the USS Saratoga in 1977), black and white framed photos of immigrants (maybe voting, or registering, I wasn't sure), the logo of US Homeland Security, a portrait photo (likely the new Homeland Security secretary, but I wasn't sure), a photo-op corner with a green silhouette of the State of Liberty and the words "Proud American," and a screen with all the social media tags for USCIS and #NewUSCitizen information. 

A man opened the session by having all the young people sit in the middle, with their accompanying family members on the side sections.  The person in charge played a video, then had everyone stand while they played The Star Spangled Banner (and had told them ahead of time to 'remove headgear, unless for religious purposes').  He also said that normally they play a message from the president to the group, but there is not yet a message done from the new president -  and then another man came and spoke to the group. 

This one was young and very engaging (though a microphone would have been a good idea).  He began to ask the group questions from the test (the citizenship test has 100 questions for study; I think every American should look at the online test and know the answers) - and after two questions (one on who wrote the Federalist Papers, as an example), and some bewildered young people, he said 'You don't need to take the test - you are becoming a citizen because it's one of the many things your parents have done for you. Go right now and give them a hug, then come back to your seat!"  Niko hurried back to us, looking all Mister Cool but clearly incredibly nervous underneath, and said to me, "Bring it on," before I hugged him and he scurried back. 

The young man - a deputy something or other - asked the reassembled teens if they knew the nation's official motto:  "In God We Trust." Then he asked if they knew the unofficial motto and its meaning:  E Pluribus Unum - out of many, one.  He asked if they could guess how many nations were represented by the 28 young people there.  Turns out it was 16.  He read aloud the names of the countries, and had them stand when their country was announced (yet another stressful moment for Niko, but he did it) - Canada, Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, Ukraine, Haiti, Yemen, Algeria, Peru, Morocco, Congo - those are a few I remember. 

He gave some announcements, such as how to get your passport after this, and about the need to be positive the info on the citizenship document was correct. "We can change it today for free. But if it has to be changed next week, or next month, or another other time, it will cost" over $500 - I forget the exact amount.  

Later he had them stand again, told family members they could come to the front to take pictures of the group, and the group stood and raised their right hands. He spoke aloud (by memory) the oath, in phrases, and the group repeated it after him.  It's a daunting oath, and a pretty serious and impressive thing to hear it spoken by twenty-eight young people.  

As Hannah and I stood wth the family members and tried to take pictures, Niko was subtly moving back and forth, totally serious-and-nervous faced, trying to get out of our view so we couldn't take his picture.  He despises having his picture taken, and always feels self-conscious about it.  

Despite that, it was very moving.  Then everyone in the room stood, turned to the flag, and gave the Pledge of Allegiance. At that point, I couldn't get any voice out, I just mouthed the words and felt the tears. 

We returned to our seats, and the young man said to the teens, "I asked you before  - what is the official motto of the United States?"  "In God we trust."  "What is the unofficial motto?"  "E Pluribus Unum."  "How many nations are represented here?  Trick question!"  Someone said 16, and he said thank you for that, but "No - the answer is one.  You all are now American citizens, and you represent one country."  

He called each young person by name to come up and receive their certificate.  Then he said they could take pictures at the different spots, and reminded us to check the papers.  Niko raced over to us, I gave him a hug, the others got fist bumps.  Hannah and I looked at the certificate together, and we noticed a possible error, and so I went up to the young man and showed him the odd "Congo-Kinshasa" wording for his "Country of Birth."  He said he'd seen that and wondered, and would take it and contact the State Department. 

While we waited, we asked Niko about taking a picture.  No, he said, just as we'd expected.  But somehow, this time, we convinced him. Maybe it was seeing others his age taking pictures, maybe it was some final recognition that us saying 'this is a really important day' was sinking in, maybe it was the promise of a slushie, or some combination of all three.  He surprised us by asking it to be in front of the flag, and Hannah took a picture of him.

More waiting, and finally the new document came, with Democratic Republic of Congo properly listed as his birthplace, more signing of his name, more thanks given to the young man, and we were off together, down the elevator and out into a breezy, sunny, blue-sky summer day.  

It could have gone wrong in so many ways, from the very first realization of the financial urgency, to the requirement that non-picture-taking Niko go into a CVS for a passport photo, to the news that we had to go somewhere in a large city, for our private son to swear a public oath.   

"So help me God."  Words to remember - because He has helped us - us the nation, us the family, and we trust that He will continue.  And now "We, The People" includes our fifteen-year-old son.  As best we can, we will continue to teach him what this country means, its rights and responsibilities, its freedoms and its history.  Happy Citizenship Day, Niko.  

Monday, December 5, 2016

Great Joy

I was reading my morning devotions.  The outside world was decorated by a layer of snow that had fallen in the night, and the birds were at the feeder just by the kitchen window.  I'd love to say that the inside of my house is also decorated, that the tree is up and the stockings are hung, that the rooms are adorned with green and red and all that's beautiful. But that part wouldn't be true, at least not yet.  I do have out all my Christmas books, though, and that's really how it begins for me. 

Back to my devotions.  I was reading a passage in the book of Acts, about the early church and the council at Jerusalem.  It wasn't part of a seasonal reading, or any sort of Advent narrative.  It was simply what came next in the schedule I've been following.  

Paul and Barnabas were dealing with a serious doctrinal dispute, concerning the very basis of salvation.  They were sent by the church to bring correction to the problem, and on their way, the Bible says, "They passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren."  

I am sure I have read this verse before.  In fact, given my past read-throughs, I have no doubt read it several times.  But there was no note, no underscore, no emphasis to indicate it had any prior impact.  I didn't recall reading it, there was no familiarity to the words.  This time, though, I was stopped by them. 

"They caused great joy to all the brethren."

So many do the opposite. So many people cause anguish, discouragement, and defeat wherever they go.  But not these two - they caused great joy.  And that's what I want to do - to bring great joy. 

That's a wonderful thought and a worthy objective, but it's quite a bit of pressure, too.   

But the next verse says, "And they reported all things that God had done with them."  That's a simple task I can understand - I'm to be a storyteller of God's work in my life, to relate God's wonders and His miracles, and His amazing grace to me.  And in that telling is my own "Joy to the world," my own caroling song.  "Let every heart prepare Him room," Watts writes, and because that has taken place, others can see another incarnation: Christ living in me. 

It's a sounding joy, to be repeated.  The decorations, the concerts, the parties, the books, the ornaments, the gifts under the tree, so many of these things are traditions - a repeat of the joy, an encore of the anthem.  I didn't expect to find Christmas in Acts 15.  Yet my very celebration of the Son of God taking on human flesh and beginning that thirty-three year journey to the cross is a testimony to the reverberating and replaying of joy, to the truth that the Lord is come.  

Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy - great joy, to all the brethren. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Mushrooms, Yard Signs, and the Election

I was in the library last night, picking up a book I had requested from another library.  It's a children's book on mushrooms, and I like the storyline and accompanying illustrations, and the way parts of the book look like a nature journal.  We take nature walks in our home each week and also with my grandchildren, so "The Mushroom Hunt" seemed like a good addition to autumn nature study. 

I didn't expect this library book to get me thinking about the election. 

To be fair, it's hard not to think about it.  It's all over Facebook, Twitter, the news, podcasts, and people's conversations.  It's been an election season like no other I can recall, with both candidates scoring high in one area:  "least liked" in recent history.  

But I was at the library, thinking about nature study, and in particular getting a book on mushrooms.  My mind, at least for awhile, was not on the choice before the nation. 

The librarian handed me the receipt.  "It's due on the 10th," he said. 

And then it hit me.  November 10th.  The election is the 8th.  

When I return my library book, the election will be all over. 

Well, of course, there's the possibility it won't be completely over. Anyone who lived through 2000 (and this year's youngest voters at least were born then, though they wouldn't remember) knows that elections aren't always decided that night.  Or for many nights. 

But likely, this fractious, troubling, momentous decision will be past, when I bring "The Mushroom Hunt" back to the public library.  And it all suddenly loomed very near.

I have read or listened to many wise and godly men and women speak about this election.  I can't recall a time when Christians, particularly Christians who share similar values on urgent priorities like life, religious liberty, national safety, the Supreme Court, and economic and personal freedom, have been this polarized. 

I have come - tentatively - to my likely voting decision for this election - and I am not going to write about it today. I don't know if I will at any point. 

But I have come to an even bigger decision.  It came to me when I was thinking about the election, and feeling frustrated and powerless and somewhat discouraged about it.  

I am going to pray.  

Now obviously, I've been praying already.  I can go back to a much earlier time in the primary cycle and find my prayer requests written out, prayer requests that were both specific and general - for a certain candidate, and for God to be glorified.  But lately, the barrage of news from and about both camps has nearly paralyzed my prayer life in that area.  And that's not a good thing. 

The Bible says to 'pray for those in authority.'  Neither presidential candidate is in a position of authority over me - yet.  The vice presidential candidates actually have more authority at the moment, and though I don't live in either state where they govern, one of them at least has the capacity in the Senate to make decisions that impact me and my family.  But not one of these four people - Trump, Clinton, Pence, or Kaine - is right now specifically ruling over me.  

By the time "The Mushroom Hunt" is due, though, two of them will be.  

And in the meantime, they all are ruling in a sense - they are ruling the airwaves, the internet, the national conversation, and they are ruling the yards. 

Signs are cropping up.  I took a picture of each camp's sign today, which was interesting in itself.  My own street is remaining apolitical this year, it seems, so I drove around awhile and then had to pull over to get these stunning photos. (I envisioned taking some beautiful images, with the setting sun reflecting off of a few nearby fallen maple leaves.  That didn't happen, clearly.)

Those signs have become notices for me - notices that tell me to pray.  

It was an exhortation, a command, that "first of all" - before I give my opinion, before I engage in articulating my points, before I do anything else - "supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks" (that's a lot right there...) "be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority."
(I Timothy 2:1)

These four people need my prayers.  

I can't just vote for my favorites, or my candidates, or my side.  A study of the time period for the Apostle Paul's writing of this letter to young Timothy reveals that Nero was the one 'in authority.'   That adds significant perspective. The rhetoric is pretty intense right now, from both the Republicans and the Democrats, but no one can accuse either candidate of lighting Christians on fire to illuminate their personal garden.  (Although, give it a day or so, and who knows what will be said next.  I'm kidding.  I hope.)

There's a reason to pray.  It's so that 'we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.'  Such a life is louder than the text indicates.  When a believer in Jesus Christ lives a life of godliness and honesty, that testimony speaks to an ever-growing circle of people.  And that observable testimony is a testimony to the life-changing power of God. 

That's because praying for those in authority, even - especially - when they are leaders that oppose our values or our convictions or (in the case of the early church) even our very existence, that's a strong witness. 

It's also the most important thing I can do right now. When I saw those political signs today, I gained what I had been missing:  a sense of purpose in this election.  I have a role to play, and it matters whether or not I carry out that role.  It matters because God hears and God answers. 

Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Tim Kaine, Mike Pence - I am praying for you.  I am praying that if any of you don't know Jesus Christ as your Savior, that you turn to Him and accept what He did for you on the cross.  Truly, ultimately, that's your most important decision.  If you once knew and walked with Him but you've followed another path, I pray you return, fully and joyfully. And if you already know Him, I pray you stay closer than ever to the only One who can guide you, help you, and sustain you. God alone can help the country. That's the way it's always been, and that's the one thing - in this radically changing time - that hasn't changed at all.  

The election is soon.  Well, according to my library receipt, anyway.  (Library due dates always arrive with much haste.  I have a backlog of fines to prove it. Oops. That revelation would likely keep me out of public office.  But I digress.) 

And every yard sign, every news story, every debate, every tweet and post and podcast and conversation - they are reminders to pray for these four, their families, this election, and this country. And yes, for the rest of the world, too. Because as important as my vote is - and it is important - my prayers matter, my prayers reach the heart of God, and my prayers can make all the difference. 

Join me?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Gratefully Sing

I woke this morning with words tumbling around in my head.

I don't use the word cacophony on a regular basis, but this is where that word should be used.  My head was filled with a 'harsh, discordant mixture of sounds.'  The words mostly had to do with the election here in the U.S. (the debate and all the back-and-forth discussion during and after on social media), but such information overload happens other times as well.

The other day I wrote about my devotional plans and about Music Monday, the idea of adding hymn study to Monday's devotional time.  After reading and praying, and hearing God's words so clearly in a couple of matters, I opened a hymnal.

I got to thinking about my grandmother.  My grandmother Mimi was a character.  She had several responsibilities in church, as she was the pastor's wife, the nursery coordinator, and the head of what was called back then the "Beginners Department."  The Beginners were the '4's and 5's,' and the church was large enough that they had their own large room and several teachers.

I remember Mimi telling me once about teaching the Beginners beyond what most, at the time, thought was appropriate little-kid Sunday School material.  She taught them often to "marry a Christian," which prompted her co-workers to chuckle.  She also set aside the usual little songs and taught the children hymns, especially "O Worship the King."

I think she was wise to do both.

So I looked up "O Worship the King."

I got out my notebook and began to write - verse after verse.  It took time, and it took focus, longer than if I'd just read the familiar hymn.

The words began to sing in my head, first in phrases, then in whole lines, then in the totality of the beauty of this song.  Other concerns, other thoughts and fears and burdens got crowded out by "Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days."

Later on my morning walk, I thought about how God's canopy is space.  I kept hearing that He has a path on the wings of the storm, that His care is bountiful. What calming truths.

Psalm 94:19 says,  "In the multitude of my thoughts within me Thy comforts delight my soul."

A hymn like O Worship the King is one of those comforts. It renews my mind, and brings a measure of peace.

"Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail, in Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail. Thy mercies, how tender, how firm to the end, our Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend."

Friday, October 7, 2016

Some Bits of Autumn

I've noticed that I write the season as Autumn; I say it as Fall.

No matter what I call it, I know that each day, in my part of the world, there is something new to see, to appreciate, to celebrate.  On my morning walk around the neighborhood today, I kept stopping to look, to notice, to marvel.

Whether it was the fallen birch leaves by my aunt's house,

the newly reddening maples in my front yard,

the magnificent sugar maple up the street,

a 'Silver Dust' with its yellow flowers,

an eastern white pine's yellowing needles,

the large pods on a trumpet creeper,

Queen Anne's Lace all curled up,

a first, perfect fallen red maple, 

the berries on a Canada Yew,

the detail on this evergreen that's turning brown (a cypress?),

keys (helicopters!) on a Japanese maple,

a neighbor's crepe myrtles, 

or the yellow mums on my front porch,  they each have a beauty of their own. 

I'm reading Edwin Way Teale's "Autumn Across America," a book that describes the trip taken by Edwin and his wife Nellie across the country and into the fall.  The caption below the title says, "A naturalist's record of a 20,000-mile journey through the North American Autumn, with photographs by the author." The four books in "The American Seasons" series were written after their only son David's death in World War II, and this volume, like the others, is "Dedicated to David, who traveled with us in our hearts."

(There needs to be a pause right there, to honor that sacrifice, and try to grasp that deep loss.  David traveled in the hearts of his grieving parents, as they went through time and place, seeing, learning, noticing, preserving. The legacy of that sorrow sits by my bedside, and fills my own heart with their words and descriptions.)

Early in chapter one, Teale writes, "There is a midsummer.  There is a midwinter. But there is no midspring or midautumn.  These are the seasons of constant change. Like dawn and dusk they are periods of transition. But like night and day and day and night they merge slowly, gradually."

I notice the changes - from the top of my street all the way to our house at the bottom, from my town over to the next, or from a nearby urban spot one way to the nearby northwest wooded mountains the other.  I know that it won't be long before the still-green Norway maple and pin oak and Bradford pears on my road will change into their fall colors.  I don't want to miss it, to waste seeing what is here.

Constant change, yet gradual transition. I see that in my daily vistas, and in my daily life.  There are changes there, too - changes that give me joy and hope and peace, and changes that cause concern and a sense of dread.  But - I have one who travels with me, too, through time and place, into this season and on into the next. The One who made the world, the order of the seasons, and the beauty within each small part on my little street - the One who thought this all up (imagine!) - that One who did all this is with me, and He is so very safe to trust. 

Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Morning by Morning

"Morning by morning, new mercies I see."

There is an appointment I try to make each day.  I have missed it sometimes, and I will no doubt miss it again - but it's still important enough for me to do my best to keep it as my first priority. 

It's my time in the Word, reading the Bible and talking to its Author.  

The resources I use to do this are not unique only to me, but it may be useful for others to read about them. 

I start with Daily Light.   I knew this little book was attributed to someone named Bagster, but I didn't know it was a multi-generational family project.  The head of this influential English family would select a passage of Scripture, then other family members would suggest verses that illustrated the text further.  They compiled these verses and formatted them into daily morning and evening entries.  There is no commentary, just words from the Bible arranged thematically.  

My copy is one with a foreword by Anne Graham Lotz, who received her copy from her mother, Ruth Bell Graham (who got hers from her mother, when she was a young child in China).  Anne writes, "To this day, one of the sweetest blessings for me is to know each morning and evening when I read Daily Light, that my parents and children, wherever they might be, are reading the same thing."  

I know that blessing.  My daughters both read Daily Light, and my mother often texts me to say "Make sure you read Daily Light today!"

I also use a prayer journal.  In the past I got prayer journals from a Christian bookstore, or I made my own, out of a regular store-bought journal. For the past few years, I've bought Youth With A Mission's "Personal Prayer Diary And Daily Planner."   I draw a vertical line through each day's entry, and that gives me a place to record and date answers to prayer beside that prayer request. Those answers occasionally take years, they are sometimes given that day, they are often what I've prayed for, and sometimes they're not at all what I envisioned - but they are always God's answers.  To look back over the years and see God's hand, to see specific dates and recorded answers - well, these journals are altars of testimony to God's love and faithfulness. 

In the inside cover of my prayer journal, I have an assortment of brochures, pictures, newsletters, bulletins, business cards, even two notices from funerals.  They remind me to pray for my church, Christian organizations, missionaries, family members, friends, leaders, people in other parts of the world, and families that are grieving.  It's not a highly organized method, but it works for me, to see these images and to have these reminders.

Of course, then there is my Bible.  It's worn, written in, and starting to fall apart.  I'd love to say it's due to what Charles Spurgeon said, "A Bible that's falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn't."  I'm not sure that's the case, though, I think it's more that I've stuffed it in tote bags with other things, or stuffed other things into it, or just taken it with me to lots of places.  

My grandmother Mimi read through the Bible every year.  I remember she once told my Dad that she'd read it through at least sixty times, and that was long before she died.  

I've done the same, but nowhere near as many times.  I used to read it straight through, starting on New Year's Day.  I'd get through Genesis OK, then Exodus, but then by the time I reached Leviticus, it got harder to keep up.  I believe every word is inspired, but unless I was doing an actual study (which is an important thing to do), it didn't seem like the best idea to have my daily Bible reading center entirely on Old Testament law.  

Then I found Rose Publishing's Bible Reading Plan.  There are several plans, in fact, in this pamphlet, but the one that works for me is the one that includes a passage from the Old Testament, a passage from the New Testament, something from Psalms, and a few verses from Proverbs, for each day.  The days are numbered but not dated, which is an improvement upon a similar format I used another year.  I don't need to start in January for this plan, and if I miss a day,  I don't try to double-up the next day, I just go on from where I am.

Reading prayerfully is so important.  It's a bit like listening to someone I love. I can stay in their presence, nod, even comment appropriately, and still have my mind other places.  Or I can give that person my full attention, with my eyes focused, ears open, heart ready to respond to their words. It's the same with Bible reading.  I want to do more than check off a little box - I want to hear the words of God, and be fully present with Him.  

There are other things I do for my Bible and prayer time, but those aren't every single day.  There were a few weeks in the summer when I could do 'all the things,' but once fall and homeschool started up again, those leisurely, lengthy sessions shortened considerably.  I'm thinking now of connecting favorite extras with a day of the week - like Music Monday (copying a hymn in my own handwriting - it slows me down, prompts me to think on the words, and gives me a song that lingers in my mind throughout the day), or French Friday (copying a Bible verse or passage in French - it's intriguing to read even a familiar Scripture in another language and consider how it's phrased).  I also started to copy a verse in Koine (New Testament) Greek, going through I John.  It was a quieting thing to attempt my best hand at the language the Gospels and Epistles were written in originally, and to do simple word studies on words or phrases I didn't remember from Bible College long ago. I don't know what day of the week is catchy with that, though.  (Any suggestions?)

Writing daily notes of gratitude or chronicling the deeper, bigger mountains of praise in my life - those are important, too, and I'd like to give them their place in my special daily time. And memorizing Scripture - that's something I did a lot when I was young, but an exercise I need to restore in my life now.  My grandmother Mormor would write out Scriptures to aid in memorization, and she was in her seventies and into her early eighties at the time. Her daughters found those scraps of paper after she died.  My mom kept some of those papers, and painted a border around one and framed it for me.  In my Mormor's familiar hand, it reads:

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer."  (Psalm 19:14)  I think the best way for me to do that is to make sure there are lots of mornings spent with the Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. 

There's one extra daily assignment I've relished, and it's new for me this year.  I got a five-year calendar book, one accentuated with daily quotes of Jane Austen (a delight all by itself), and each day I write down something special from nature.  It might be a 'first' - especially wonderful to do in the spring, to note the arrival of a wildflower, or in the fall, to mark the first changing red maple leaf.  I have entries that say "Bear in the backyard!" or "Full Hunter Moon" or "Identified Black-Eyed Susan Vine at the library."  I've noted "Drove through the Catskills," "Watched the sunrise over Lake Ontario,""Saw first bluebird - in Texas!," and "Beautiful cloud formations this afternoon." Today my daily entry included the magnificent rainbow Niko and I saw as we drove over a reservoir.  I don't use this journal for regular appointments and such, but if there is a significant event (a birthday, or wedding, or special anniversary, or even a world event), I add that, too.  Keeping such a calendar book prompts me to remember more, and to want to notice and celebrate (and identify) more of what I see.  

At this stage of my life, I wonder a bit about the five-year part of it.  If I actually carry this out and complete all five years, there will be some hard things in there, no doubt.  There will be some glad things as well.  I've often wondered at the mystery of tomorrow, and at God's mercy in keeping it from us.  If we knew what was ahead, we could not bear all of it.  He gives us what we need for each day, and with that comes the promise that He will provide, guide, help, comfort, strengthen, encourage, and give joy for all the days to come.  

He is, surely, safe to trust. And it's a good thing, to start the day with that in mind.