Out on a Limb

The breeze is tinged with the perfume of blossoms—white blossoms brushed with the lightest blush of pink. In the thick of the apple branches, there is a flash of flame-orange, and the unmistakable song of an oriole rings through the air. Down below, a profusion of forget-me-nots is on full display in the garden. Spring is here in all its glory.

It’s breathtaking.

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A few months ago, I wondered if spring would ever come. The actual season, yes. Metaphorically as well. But the seasons always change. Spring always comes ‘round again.

Funny how we forget that.

I watch the oriole flit around from branch to branch and finally perch on a limb about halfway up. Sometimes when the Lord asks us to step out on a limb, it can be downright scary—even when that limb is laden with blossoms. There is always nostalgia for the safety of things left behind.

But there is freedom in obedience. And each tentative step prepares us for more.

There is a rustling of leaves and suddenly, with a shower of silken petals, the bird takes to its wing. Those branches, frosted with blooms, were a stopping point. A launching point. I can’t help but feel like that’s where I’m at too.

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Everything in nature right now is emerging fresh and vivid green. Also in my heart. This is a season of breakthrough. Of healing. Of peace.

Of a soul at rest.

Each step is less tentative and more sure. I know my Saviour is holding me. What once terrified me now fills me with joy. I’m in no hurry to move from this limb.

And yet, I’m waiting breathlessly to find out what comes next.

How do you want to use me, Lord?

The answer is clear. Do what’s in front of you to do right now. Right now. In this moment. It’s being faithful with the little—with each tiny step.

Because, while each step prepares us for the next, it also prepares us for more. I stepped out on a limb. But a limb is a launching point.

Someday, those steps of faith will become a leap of faith.

And I’ll hold tight to Him and fly.

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The Sparrow’s Home

 

The nest is tiny and delicately woven. The materials are simple and humble—field grass. It sits on the nature shelf in our dining room, a perfect little cup that once held the cream-and-speckled promise of life.

Even now, it holds a promise.

“Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.” (Psalm 84:3)

We squish our way along a muddy track through the woods—the girls and I. We’re looking in the trees for flashes of colour and trills of song. Signs of spring though it’s early yet. We spy some black-capped chickadees and some large, loud crows. Winter birds. Still, they are more interesting than the sparrows that frequent our yard at home.

We barely notice the sparrows anymore. They are common and nondescript.

There are no birds of note to be found anywhere quite yet, I think to myself. I’m not interested in crows and sparrows.

But God is.

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When we return home again, I spy the little grass nest on the dining room shelf, a gift from a friend. And it reminds me just how much He loves the sparrow. Psalm 84:3 is a promise for the year and for my lifetime.

Because even the overlooked and insignificant are seen and welcome in the most holy of places—the place where heaven meets earth.

Because I’m invited to make my home at the altar too, close to the Father’s heart—yes, even me, a common sparrow.

Because His Presence is life and I want our lives to be infused with His. He also wants our lives to be infused with His. My heart and my desire is to raise my little ones in His shadow, and He makes room for me there.

He desires to be with us. It’s a beautiful truth that changes everything. We don’t have to chase Him. He’s not playing hard to get. We don’t have to try to be anything other than who He has created us to be.

We’re invited to simply come and dwell with Him.

When I see this tiny grass nest, I am reminded. The little brown bird trilling its song is seen by the Father. It is heard. It is loved.

I, too, am seen and heard and loved.

I, too, have a place close to His heart.

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When the Best Laid Plans Go Awry

The air was filled with sunshine and gunshots.

A white pick-up pulled up beside us and a ranger rolled down the window. “The park is closed for the annual deer hunt,” he informed us. “You can drive up Decew Road and hike over on the left-hand side, but this whole side of the park is closed.”

I was disappointed. My friend and I had been planning our hike at Short Hills Provincial Park for weeks. It was a kid-free outing. An escape and a chance to catch up after a busy few weeks. But now, the park was closed.

Following the ranger’s directions, we made our way to Decew Street. There were no trails that we could see. Not anywhere. But there was an old grist mill. Morningstar Mill, the sign read. I pulled into the parking lot.

“Can we stop and look around for a minute?” I asked my friend. The place intrigued me.

“Sure,” she agreed.

I grabbed my camera and jumped out of the car. The grounds were beautiful. There was a fully restored 1872 grist mill, a blacksmith shop, an old house, and a few other buildings.

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And in the back corner, there was a wooden gate.

We creaked open the gate and found ourselves on the Bruce Trail. This was what we had been looking for. The narrow path wound past Decew Falls and followed the creek to the edge of the escarpment. The views were breath-taking.  We could see farm and city, and in the distance, Lake Ontario.

As we hiked, I couldn’t help but think of all the times in my life when plans changed. Often, I have things laid out to perfection in my mind. But life’s greatest blessings have come from plans gone awry. New careers. A sweet baby girl. Precious friendships. A renewed sense of purpose.

Deeper faith.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart,” the Bible says. “But the purposes of the Lord will prevail.” In Jeremiah 29:11, the Lord assures us that His plans are to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future.

Sometimes, God puts us on a different path—a better path—because He has different, better things in store for us.

The trail climbed a steep hill beside a hydro dam. At the top, a beautiful, man-made lake spread out before us. Canada geese flapped low overhead, honking loudly as they settled in the water. A long-tailed duck dove deep, then re-appeared. Swans swam in tandem, stark white against the water.

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We followed the edge of the lake, stopping to examine purple wildflowers and fresh-cut beaver trees. There was so much beauty here—beauty that we had almost missed.

I breathed in autumn and exhaled contentment. Like so much of life, this wasn’t the plan.

But it was perfect anyway.

The Promise of a New Beginning

It is November, but the day is warm. My mom has taken the girls for the afternoon, and I am free to wander the world at leisure. Alone. These quiet hours spent walking through woods and meadows refresh and recharge me.

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Many of the trees have already cloaked the earth with their canopies. Their stark branches scratch the blue sky. In the meadow, the milkweed has burst open, releasing seed clouds into the wind. Late-season raspberries ripen on thorny branches, and the goldenrod is fringed with white.

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A grey squirrel rustles in the leaves, busily gathering nuts—a portent of the days to come. He swears at me as I pass by, angry at the interruption. Further down the path, a fallen nest lies abandoned in the grass. Its owners have no need of it anymore. Their young have long flown away.

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I love the autumn, despite the fact that it precedes the grey days of winter. It is the end of the season, yes. But spring will one day come, and life will flow again. Even in death, there can be beauty and hope.

Every ending holds the promise of a new beginning.

So I savour the moment.

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The Importance of the Small

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Everyone was so out of sorts this morning that we almost didn’t go. It’s Wednesday, and we hadn’t been hiking yet this week – and if you know even a little about us, you know how strange that is. But the temperatures some days have been past the uncomfortable mark … and with three littles, well, you know.

Sometimes, I’m just not brave enough.

It was cool this morning, however. Cool and refreshing. And perhaps because everyone was so tired and cross, I packed the girls in the car and headed over to a local trail head.

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The older girls carried snacks, water and their nature journals in matching pink backpacks. They held hands and chatted happily as they set off down the trail. I followed behind more slowly, my youngest toddling by my side.

I used to sometimes get envious of other people’s big moments in life – big vacations, big accomplishments, big promotions. But these last two years as a stay-at-home mom have taught me something important: As wonderful as big things are, there is so much joy to be found in the little things.

blog0000RSCN9956We get so busy chasing after the big things that we often forget to stoop low and wonder at small. The intricately created insect scurrying across a leaf, for example. The butterfly sipping nectar from a wildflower. The deer hiding in the forest clearing.

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We need to slow down, breathe and just be grateful.

Life is a gift. No matter how hard it is and no matter how much we sometimes want to give up, it is a gift. Each moment is given to us by a God who loves us more deeply than we could ever imagine. And when we hurry from one big thing to the next big thing? We miss millions of little love-wrapped moments.

So let’s pause and look around sometimes.

And let’s be grateful for the small.

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Evening Meanderings

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The day is long. They often are. Being home with my girls—homeschooling them—is a huge privilege. And yet, I have to be honest.

It’s hard.

I don’t often admit that. I try to make it look easy. The truth is, as much as I love it, this is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Things worth doing usually are.

Today is particularly trying. I meet opposition at every turn and I’m exhausted.

My husband arrives home just the girls are finishing dinner, and I am out the door in a flash. I push aside a twinge of guilt—the niggling feeling that I should be doing something more meaningful with my time. I remind myself: You can’t give when you’re empty. Tonight, I’m empty. And besides, the whole reason I’m going out is to meet up with someone who can help.

And I know just where I’m going to find some uninterrupted time with Him.

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I park the car at the end of a gravel road. The sun is beginning to set and the woods are bathed in the early evening glow. I grab my camera and begin to walk. A narrow side trail leads through a bed of ferns and into the bush, and I carefully pick my way over protruding roots and rocks. At the end of the path, nestled in a small valley, is a stream.

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I crouch beside a fallen tree and watch gray field slugs feast on mushrooms. Some might find this repulsive, but I’m intrigued. I learn later that some slugs solely subsist on fungi during certain stages of their development. Nature is a fascinating thing.

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I go back to the main path, past the frog pond and towards the meadow. Another side trail leads to a bench overlooking the valley and the view leaves me breathless.

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A little further on, in another meadow, three deer eye me suspiciously. I stop to stare back. I’m in no hurry.

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As the sun slinks behind the horizon, dusk emerges bold. Something dark flaps low across the path. It lands on a branch and I peer through the thicket to see what it could be. An owl. I watch until it flies away.

The air fills with the yips and howls of coyotes—the music of the night. I slowly make my way back to the car, rested.

I’ve done what I’ve come here to do. I’ve met the One I’ve been seeking.

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These days, I often find myself scrambling over rocks, pushing my way through tall meadow grasses and wandering deep in the woods.  I often find myself needing this change of scenery—time away, just me and Jesus. No little feet creaking down the stairs when I’m trying to pray in the early morning. No demands or pressures. Just uninterrupted time with the One who can soothe away the frustrations of the day. Here, in nature, I see reflections of His glory. Here, He speaks to the deep places.

Through silken spider strands glistening in the sun, He whispers.

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Through the ebony jewelwing that rests on a cool, green leaf, He whispers.

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Through the forest carpeted with flowers, He whispers.

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Each of these things, a gift from a Father who longs to draw close. Each of these things, a whisper of love. Love expressed through beauty.

“For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” (Romans 1:20)

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

I come home and my heart is full. I’ve met Jesus.

And I’m ready to give again.

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The Most Humble of Things

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My daughter spotted it first, clinging to a wall beside an old railway track.

“Look, Mom,” she called excitedly. “Look what I found!”

It was just a common grasshopper. Nothing special. But as I bent close, I could see its leg quiver, hear a chirping sound. It’s called stridulation—when the inside of a male’s rear leg is rubbed against its forewing, it produces a rasping sound.

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I grabbed my camera and snapped a couple of pictures. My sister is the insect photographer. I’m not a photographer at all, nor do I have fancy photography equipment. But I like to try anyway.

It’s the detail that gets me. Every creature, no matter how tiny, is so intricate.

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Do you see the herringbone pattern on the grasshopper’s rear leg? People buy herringbone purses and jackets and yet God thought of it first. Effortlessly, this tiny insect is cloaked with beauty.

I was feeling tired and discouraged when I woke up this morning. The Lord has been working on my heart—teaching me what it means to lay down my life for others—and the lessons have, at times, been hard. As we were driving to the trails, I prayed: Lord, I’m so used to living just for myself. I didn’t realize that picking up my cross in the little things—the day-to-day things—could be so trying at times. You picked up the greatest Cross of all and I just desperately need You to help me put the little details of my life back into perspective.

As my daughter and I crouched on a railway tie in front of that low wall, my perspective began to shift. If God puts that much care into a grasshopper, how much more care does He put into me?

If He paints the butterfly’s wing so beautifully, how much more beautifully is He painting my life?

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Or, as Matthew 6:28 says, “Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.”

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God cares about the details. He sees me when I’m tired at the end of a homeschool day, when there is a sink full of dishes to wash, a basket of laundry to put away, children who need attention and an hour to make dinner and tidy up before my husband arrives home.

God sees the details. He gives strength for the day, grace for the moment, and those extra reminders of love when we need them.

Sometimes, those reminders come through the most humble of things.

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