A Cat’s Contentment

At the request of my friend’s daughter, I snapped a few portraits of her treasured cat, Hobbes, sleeping contentedly on the sofa. He is so golden, he almost seemed to glow in the bit of sunlight streaming in the window.
IMG_4910eCats are satisfied with so little. Content to prowl around outside, content to come in and doze on the sofa or a bed, content with enough food, content with something as simple as a shred of paper to play with, content with a little affection and a little sunlight. Cats demand very little. A stroke on their cheek and a rumbling purr resonates.

Yet we human creatures are never content. We are always seeking lustfully after the next fad, the newest this or that, the best of this or that.  We desire the next adventure, the best experience. So much of our culture and our industries are built on discontentment. Magazines like House Beautiful capitalize on people’s discontent with their home decor and wall color choices. Travel magazines fuel and are fueled by discontent in where we are and what we can afford to do. Women’s magazines fuel and are fueled by discontent in my body, my clothes, my house, my family, my life, my kitchen, my husband.

I’m speaking in pretty broad terms here, and don’t misunderstand me as condemning various publications or condemning the idea of taking a vacation. Because I’m not.  But if we were content with what we had and only ever bought what we needed, and not what we lusted after, our whole economy would come crashing down. There’s nothing wrong with the new pair of shoes or the vacation or the nicer car or new paint on the walls. There is nothing wrong with beautifying one’s home or enjoying good food. We just need to be aware of our sinful human tendency to think that those things will bring lasting satisfaction. We mistakenly think that we will be better satisfied by a once-in-a-lifetime vacation to the Caribbean than by warming our fingers around a mug of hot tea, basking in the sunlight and reading our favorite book. Human beings are restless, discontent creatures, seeking satisfaction from things and experiences rather than seeking satisfaction in God’s provision for us. The modest plenty we have never seems to satisfy.

King Solomon, as well as other proverb writers and God Himself frequently drew lessons of one sort or another through considering God’s Creation. In the Book of Job, God reminds Job of His greatness and majesty by bringing to Job’s mind numerous creatures which God created and sustains, and which humans can’t even come close to understanding. Lessons and encouragement are learned and gained through considering characteristics of God’s creatures, how He cares for His non-human Creation, the instincts He gave to His animal creatures, and so on. In Proverbs 6, Solomon writes the following:

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
    consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
    officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer
    and gathers her food in harvest.

Consider the cat, then, and be content.

Advertisements

Glorious, like Apple Butter

At the beginning of this growing season, our two little apple trees were very promising, covered with blossoms. Since we don’t prune our trees, this was the “on year,” the year we were supposed to get a good crop of apples. Then, a month or two months later, the fruit looked promising as well. The apples started pinking up, and they even began to taste like fall. We had just started commenting on what we would do with this crop of apples…and we got our hail storm, which pummeled those two little trees pretty badly. Needless to say, we were disappointed! But I went out a couple of days later and scavenged under the trees, picking through the fallen apples. My initial idea was to try to pick up the ones that were “just bruised.” When I saw how pathetically few apples there were that were “just bruised,” my standards loosened, and it became something like “the ones without bugs in them.” Even that standard slipped, and as long as the bugs weren’t embedded, the apple went into the bucket. Some of them were damaged and rotting beyond use, but I picked up a large bucketful of apples, and spent a couple of hours cutting off the bad spots.
IMG_3323eIMG_3487eWe cooked the apples this afternoon, and put them through this antique ricer we had in the Miner’s Cabin – a beautiful piece of kitchen equipment! The smell of apples cooking is the smell of fall and plenty, the smell of harvest and celebration and family gatherings. It reminds me of Curtis Orchard, a family orchard we used to visit in Illinois, and the wonderful apple donuts they were known for. IMG_3503eThe tart apples had cooked down into a beautiful golden sauce, steaming hot and fragrant. We now have it in a slow cooker to turn it into the wonderful thing called apple butter, since no one in the family particularly likes applesauce. A recipe to come…IMG_3492eA couple of things come to mind as I think back and write this. One obvious thing is just how fortunate we’ve been this year, as I think of the flooding down south and the fires north and west of us. The drought has been hard on this region, and we’ve had our hail storms, but compared with the destruction of the floods and the fires, we have been amazingly fortunate here and have nothing to complain about.

The second thing that comes to mind is just how good God is. As I was picking up fallen apples, looking at the spoiled spots, the bruises, the damage, resisting the urge to call it a lost cause, and thinking ahead to my plans for those apples, it seemed like a mini parable. On our own, we have nothing to offer – not to God or to anyone else. We are damaged and bruised and broken, completely corrupt at heart. Yet Jesus takes us and washes us, rather than giving up on us, and even in our brokenness He uses us to His glory. This side of Heaven, our bruises and brokenness will never completely go away. By God’s grace, those things will heal and lessen to a certain extent, but we will always struggle in this life. But He takes us anyway and calls us His own. How glorious.

Glorious, like apple butter. But better. Far better.

Tiny Wonders

On one hand, God gives us majestic miracles, like startling celestial events. On the other hand, He gives us the tiniest of the animal kingdom, creatures so tiny they seem to be in a world apart, even though I can touch them and see them. I watch them and marvel at them, but they seem almost unrelated to my reality, so tiny and delicate and other they are. What a wonderful LORD and Creator, who gave us these little glimpses of a creative power so far beyond anything we can comprehend. The beauty and even comedy of these little flying creatures really is Divine. Who else could think up, create, and sustain such tiny wonders, if not our Creator God?
IMG_2220eIMG_2210eI hear the heart-string-tugging trill of my cat, Ember, and feel her little paws as she walks all over me begging for attention, and I really am drawn in amazement to how great and loving God is. He has power so magnificent that He created this world with a word, the sun and moon and galaxies and stars and gravity and cellular structures and DNA and elephants and humpback whales and the water cycle and the seasons. But He has a love and creativity so gentle that He created the silky fur and warming purr of a cat.IMG_2224eTiny wonders. Tiny gifts. A great God.

Wonders

I have to admit, I didn’t expect the eclipse to be as startlingly beautiful as it was. When Sarah and I were in between Lusk and Douglas, WY, with tepid water in our water bottles and warm air blowing from the vents and sunlight beating in on us as we started to get a little drowsy, I have to admit, I was wondering if it would be worth the hassle of driving all the way to Douglas to see this event.

The eclipse commenced in the heat of the morning. Every few minutes, we looked through our glasses to see the strange sight of the moon slowly overshadowing a growing part of the sun. That was interesting, but it was only beginning. A spectacular drama was in the process of unfolding.

About a half hour before totality, we noticed that the sunlight was indeed dimmer. There was a strange cast over the landscape, almost like a haze, and even though the light was still bright, the intensity had diminished. The air had cooled, and we pulled on sweatshirts. As totality neared, things happened faster – The light changed more rapidly, and we noticed with delight the crescent shapes dancing in the shadows on the ground. The sky continued to grow darker as the moon closed over the sun. From the west, a deep shadow suddenly approached as the eclipse neared completion, spreading ominously until the whole landscape around us was bathed in a strange midday night. Venus appeared, almost straight overhead. A rose-colored curtain hung at the very edges of the horizon. For two minutes, we reveled in twilight, and everything was silent. The graceful moon completely covered our majestic sun, briefly cutting off the vital heat and life-giving light in an amazing display of God’s order over the celestial bodies.IMG_3117The corona around the black of the moon was breathtaking. The sky was deep violet, and the moon was darker than night. The two minutes of totality seemed to last a mere few seconds, and then the sun appeared again, and the nighttime soon warmed to day. Awe-struck, we knew we had witnessed a miracle.

An article in WORLD Magazine explained the phenomenon, that the sun, which is 400 times the size of the moon was at that moment 400 times further away, making this miracle possible. What clear evidence of God’s creative abilities, as THE creative mind, THE Creator of all things! But so many people will have watched this miracle and will have come away from it awe-struck, but with wonder misplaced. So many scientists spend their lives searching out the mysteries of God’s Creation, and somehow never reach the point of being humbled by our lowliness and God’s greatness. Too many people will watch this miracle and attribute it to random chance – But what are the chances logically that this could have happened?

God created a world where many miracles are simply a part of our existence. We need the plants and the trees and the animals and the water cycle and our atmosphere. But we don’t need the eclipse. If I lived my whole life without ever seeing an eclipse, my life wouldn’t materially be changed at all. It doesn’t benefit us in any way, in the way that a rainstorm or the seasonal cycles do. The eclipse is completely unnecessary.

I was reading through the Sherlock Holmes stories over the winter and stumbled across the gem of a quote: “Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from flowers.” I’d say the same holds true in the miracle of the eclipse. It is an extra. God didn’t need to do this for any scientific reason or reason of sustaining life on our beautiful little planet. Why would He, then? Although I hesitate to speculate, I do know that God does that which is for the good of His people and for His glory. I think that God, in His glorious love for us, decided to create a phenomenon simply out of delight, simply because He could and it would dazzle us and glorify Himself.

So wonder at the miracles we see every day, and the more spectacular miracles we are privileged to witness less frequently – And let your awe and your delight be directed where it belongs. Give God the glory, great things He has done!

The Copybook | On Love

From the book Practical Religion, by J.C. Ryle, 1878:

Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. – 1 Cor. 13:13.

“Charity (love) is rightly called ‘the Queen of Christian graces.’ …. It is a grace which all people profess to admire. It seems a plain practical thing which everybody can understand. It is none of ‘those troublesome doctrinal points’ about which Christians are disagreed….If men possess nothing else in religion, they always flatter themselves that they possess ‘charity.’….But I am bold to say that in many minds the whole subject seems completely misunderstood.

“He that would take down ‘charity’ from the high and holy place which is occupies int he Bible, and treat it as a matter of secondary moment, must settle his account with God’s Word….[T]hose who despise the subject are only exposing their own ignorance of Scripture.

“The charity of the Bible will show itself in a believer’s readiness to bear evil as well as to do good. It will make him patient under provocation, forgiving when injured, meek when unjustly attacked, quiet when slandered. It will make him bear much and forbear much, put up with much and look over much, submit often and deny himself often, all for the sake of piece. It will make him put a strong bit on his temper, and a strong bridle on his tongue.

“True charity is not always asking – ‘What are my rights? Am I treated as I deserve?’ but, ‘How can I best promote peace? How can I do that which is most edifying to others?’

“The charity of the Bible will show itself in the general spirit and demeanor of a believer. It will make him kind, unselfish, good-natured, good-tempered, and considerate for others. It will make him gentle, affable, and courteous, in all the daily relations of private life, thoughtful for others’ comfort, tender for others’ feelings, and more anxious to give pleasure than to receive. True charity never envies others when they prosper, nor rejoices in the calamities of others when they are in trouble.

“And yet, be it remembered, our blessed Master never flattered sinners, or winked at sin. He never shrunk from exposing wickedness in its true colors, or from rebuking those who would cleave to it….He called things by their right names. He spoke as freely of hell and the fire that is not quenched, as of heaven and the kingdom of glory. He has left on record an everlasting proof that perfect charity does not require us to approve everybody’s life or opinions, and that it is quite possible to condemn false doctrine and wicked practice, and yet to be full of love at the same time.

“Charity, such as I have described, is certainly not natural to man. Naturally, we are all more or less selfish, envious, ill-tempered, spiteful, ill-natured, and unkind….The heart in which charity grows is a heart changed, renewed, and transformed by the Holy Ghost.”

Yet another beautiful and thought-provoking (convicting) chapter in J.C. Ryle’s book. I really appreciate his brotherly manner of addressing his readers, and the sense of his true heartfelt concern for the spiritual wellbeing of his audience.

Heavenward

I walk the woods in the evening – my woods, I tell myself – the familiar trails, dear to me and near to my heart, winding through old creekbeds, beneath towering pines and wizened oaks, along hillsides sparkling with white chokecherry blossoms. Treading the same way again, my heart thrills. Each step is a delight. Each breath of the cool evening air tastes sweet. I want to pour the coolness over my head and drink of the freshness. It is familiar, so familiar, every step is one I’ve experienced before, each tree and flower and perfume of evening – but it is new, always new.
IMG_7227eWith the earth comforting beneath my feet, grasses growing tall to above knee-height, trees leafing out in their array of green, my heart is drawn upwards, Heavenwards. These woods are my sanctuary. I find that my time alone while hiking becomes my time alone with the LORD, since I can’t imagine walking these woods and not being struck to the heart by how good God must be to have created so much beauty for us to enjoy. He didn’t need to create beauty. God could have allowed sin to completely wipe out the beauty on this earth. But He didn’t. And it is wonderful. Even in this fallen state, His beauty is reflected in His Creation.
IMG_7015eMy heart breaks with joy. Have you ever felt that? My heart breaks and soars, and I murmur Oh, my! Again and again. Oh, my. My eye is drawn here and there – to a splash of color from a larkspur violet or a shooting star or a bluebell, to the wild white and lavender of crazyweed, to the little golden blossoms of wild currant or the coral of columbine or the dark blue-eyed grass, or the pale birch trees on a north-facing hillside of emerald moss. A gleam of sunlight through the trees on the next hilltop melts me, but I know my camera couldn’t do it justice, so I don’t even try. My heart breaks with joy – there is too much, too much, too much. How can a human creature take in so much beauty and goodness and majesty, and not be overwhelmed? And if I cannot understand Creation, how can I possibly understand its God?
IMG_7150eThe too-familiar sights, the amber scents of pine resin and the fresh earthy perfume of green life or the sweet evening air, the lullaby of wind in the pines – so many memories and impressions left over, brought back by glimpses or tastes of the familiar, the familiar that never seems to change. I remember my childhood, our visits here, my heart’s longing for this place. I remember past joys, and revel in present joys. Then my heart breaks with grief. Because I know that one day this place won’t be here for me. One day it will be sold and divided into lots and developed, and I weep at that thought, dropping tears on the grassy path. How harsh it feels – to be brought to live in the place I love most in the world, but knowing that it may not be here, a mere few years from this time. This place may only be land, and I know that, but it holds and brings back so many wonderful memories. It is a place that is part of my childhood, part of my dearest memories.
IMG_7156eThen I repent. How could I have the audacity to challenge God’s goodness and His Providence by weeping over what He may someday in His sovereignty take away from me? If that day comes, I don’t believe tears will be wrong, but weeping now and letting even a moment of joy be spoiled by what God may in His love give to me or take from me – that is wrong. I pray for contentment and peace in my knowledge that God is good. I remind myself that God only does that which is for the good of His children and for His glory. I remind myself that He only gives good gifts, and He is a loving Father, not a cruel taskmaster. If a gift is good in the giving, it is also good when He in His sovereignty removes it. If He removes a blessing and strips me of something I sinfully think is necessary for my happiness, I know He does it for my good, not to punish. If He takes something from me that I love, He does it for my good, not out of malice. Whether or not I comprehend it, it is for my good. At the very least, pain allows me to experience the sweetness of God’s comfort. One day, I’ll understand. But for now I need to be content to not understand and to take comfort in the things I do understand – that God is a loving God, a generous God, a compassionate and comforting God – and He always provides. Not necessarily how I in my humanness want Him to provide, certainly, but if God is good, His Providence is as well, and I cannot challenge it.  And so even in my tears, I thank Him. Even in my tears, this place draws me Heavenward. And then my heart lifts and I savor a soul-deep peace, content to enjoy however many days and years I have left to enjoy this. Few or many, they are a gift. How sad to spoil them with misplaced regret.
IMG_7182eThe low rumble of distant thunder tells of a coming storm, and the clouds are bright in the west, shining flame-like through the trees. The crimson and coral turn to slate and blue. The golden sunlight disappears beyond the horizon and banks of heavy clouds. The rain will come.
IMG_7223eHow can I not gaze Heavenward?