Beautiful Things

The snow in West Michigan fell furiously on this February day. Snow squalls come through near Lake Michigan at unpredictable times with winds which often cause white-out conditions for drivers. Temperatures have been near and below zero. From inside it is beautiful. I was glad to be out of the weather after going to my Bible study, and sat down to write and read. Stoking up the fireplace, I enjoyed the unusual amount of dusty Ash tree smell it was emitting. Before long, I could barely keep my eyes open, with the heat of the wood burner now warming me to a sleepy stupor.

About six hours after I had come home, my husband came in shouting to me, “Are you trying to start the house on fire?” I hopped up and said, “What?” Hurrying to the place in the garage he referred to, I could not believe my eyes. There was a smoldering cardboard box with a few red embers still showing through the gray mass. Cinders had eaten away over half of it and some had floated onto the top of the nearby garbage container. My car and some other things which could have caused problems were also close by.

I was amazed at God’s protection over me. Earlier in the day, I had placed some ashes into that box. They had been sitting outside in an aluminum pail for at least a day and since it has been so cold I thought there was no possibility of fire. I was wrong! No wonder there was so much more “wood” smell in the house than normal. I recognized the miracle and thanked the Lord for it. No one was harmed and nothing was damaged.

My husband shoveled the box and its contents into the snow bank near the woods. I took a picture of the box, as the wind made it flare up into a small fire until it finally consumed the mess.

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Enjoy this song by Michael Gungor:

Suddenly I was reminded that it was Ash Wednesday. It’s almost humorous that I would have an “ash” episode on this day.

This whole incident caused me to think of the deeper meanings. Ash Wednesday is a day which is set on the Christian calendar to mark the beginning of the Lenten season. It is “40” days before Easter. Many people go to church to receive an ash mark or cross on their foreheads. We ask the Lord to help us put off the old self, and clothe us with the new self. It reminds us that Christ is the only way we can be cleansed from the dust of life. He made it possible to be forgiven of our sins because of his sacrifice of dying on the cross for us. (Eph. 4:22-24)

What a clear reminder for me today. The ashes had hot embers within it. I thought the ashes in the pail were cold and dead. Just as the fire of the Holy Spirit is within our mess of life and needs to have wind blown on it to stoke it up. It then consumes the person and brings it to completion to make all things new. He can make beauty out of the ashes of hurt, pain or loss in your life. He’s done this with me by remaining by my side throughout life. My mom and sister died when I was young and the Holy Spirit was my comforter and never left me. As I walked in the fields and prayed, sang and cried, He was always there. He continues to make my life new every day.

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If you would like to understand more about the history of Ash Wednesday and how people observe it, here are a few links to articles:

https://www.rca.org/resources/ash-wednesday

Heidelberg Catechism question #88:
Question 88. Of how many parts does the true conversion of man consist?
Answer: Of two parts; of the mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man. (a)

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/ash-wednesday-practice-and-meaning/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/18/ash-wednesday-explainer_n_6705404.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSCxRHxGTqY&list=RDoSCxRHxGTqY#t=0 Another u-tube of Gungor’s song, “Beautiful Things” with lyrics and gorgeous pictures.

Posted in Ash Wednesday, forgiveness, God's protection, Grief and loss, old self/new self in Christ | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Three Strand Cord

 

three strand rope

This is not your normal post about how my husband is my best friend and better than anyone else’s husband. Yes, I love him and respect him greatly. Yes, we’ve been married 31 years today. But it’s so hard for me to swallow posts that come on Facebook and blogs that end up creating comparisons. The ones that say how their husband is their best friend, they can’t express how wonderful he is, and all that stuff you’re supposed to say.

Often when I read these kind of posts, I end up feeling inadequate. I think I have a great marriage according to many women, so I can’t imagine how it might make someone feel who is struggling in their marriage.

We are far from perfect. We’ve had many days or years of just going along, hoping we can make it. The first year we barely had a stick of furniture. I thought I needed my head examined for marrying such a pig-headed guy. We’ve had fierce fights. I’ve dragged him to counseling a few times. Often I really didn’t know how we were going to make it. The blame games. The always and never words. It was “never” my fault and he was “always” hard to live with.

Right.

I’ve had times when I wondered if life could have been better a different way. You look around in this world and think everyone else must have it together. He didn’t always live up to my expectations of what a perfect husband should be. I’m sure I didn’t always live up to his. His parenting style sometimes ticked me off. I thought I knew the right way to do everything. We had teenagers…enough said.

Times were tough sometimes financially. There have been power struggles. I’ve often wanted to change him and make him into the kind of person I think he should be. I have often wished he would share his feelings and talk more. He’s quiet. I’m a super emotional, and “get it all out there person.” I love two hour lunches with a best friend. I wanted to make him put his arm around me more, get away from me, or read my mind. I wanted things both ways.

Marriage is not easy. A good marriage is not easy. But we set our hearts and minds into this marriage 31 years ago today, and it was a commitment.

Commitment.

The pastor who married us, asked us this question in one of our first counseling sessions. “What is true love?” Cliff didn’t miss a beat, before he said, “commitment.” I stared at him with my mouth hanging open and didn’t have a thing to add. He was still 20 years old, and got an “A+” for that answer.

But commitment is THE answer.

As young people, we put our stakes down, with God smack-dab in the middle. Through the good times and bad, He was there intertwined in the rope of our marriage. The main Bible passage in our wedding ceremony was from Ecclesiastes 4…”Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up…A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

So, I’m saying…

God is the center.

God is the difference.

God is faithful.

It is only by His power and grace that we have been blessed with all of these years. I praise Him and give him all the glory.

Posted in God's faithfulness, Marriage Commitment | Tagged , | 9 Comments

The Love Of God

We sang the hymn, “The Love Of God,” in church Sunday and it has been on my mind all week. It is so rich and beautiful. When I searched for the exact words and history of the song, I was in for so much more than I imagined I would be. I was pouring over many sites, documents, and u-tubes. It has a very interesting back story.

Very briefly, the author and composer, Frederick Lehman, wrote two stanzas and the chorus and became stuck. He knew it needed a third stanza. He used words he found on a long forgotten book mark he had. It was said that those words of the third stanza were penciled on the wall of a mental institution by a patient. Apparently, that patient used the words of a poem written in the year 1096, by a Jewish Rabbi. It was exactly what Lehman needed. God had this song planned hundreds of years before it was knit together and put to music. We still sing it today and parts of it originated almost one thousand years ago.

I’m a strange gal musically…I absolutely love the new praise songs, contemporary Christian music, and the old hymns. I love them all. They’re both a way to worship and both very real. That’s why I’m thankful that my church still has a mixture of hymns and contemporary music. It’s a tough line to walk, but God is enabling our worship leaders to blend in both. God touches different people in different ways with a variation of music. It prepares us to worship and engages us in His presence. Music has always done that for me…it touches my soul like nothing else.

It thrills my heart to sing the old hymns at times. It amazes me that my ancestors who came to America in the 1800’s were probably gathered in their homes and churches singing the exact words and tunes I sing today. My imagination goes to the hymn writers who penned their notes on pieces of parchment and quill pens, their creativity and ability beyond my comprehension. There’s such reverence, beauty and gracefulness in these hymns. They’ve endured the ages. We’re rejoicing with the saints who have gone before us to their heavenly home.

The Holy Spirit also moves me deeply through modern praise music. It brings me to heights of worship to my God that makes me feel like I’m tasting a small slice of heaven. In the eyes of my heart, I can see millions raising their hands to our heavenly Father around the throne in heaven. I often go to concerts and conferences where things happen to me or others which are indescribable. His presence is so incredibly strong that many are drawn to clapping, dancing, speaking in tongues, prophesying, falling on knees, visions, liturgical movement or anything the Lord wants to do. That’s ok-it really is.

It is His holy ground.

I can’t explain it or dismiss it. It’s real. It’s movement of the Holy Spirit.

Some people think this is just emotional hype and not real. Who are we to tell God that this kind of worship or manifestations of the Holy Spirit do not or should not happen?

He’s the GREAT I AM. He can do whatever He wants!

I no longer need to fear this.

I believe God works through all ways of worship and they are pleasing to Him. If a person is truly worshiping and giving their heart to Him, God works in amazing and incredible ways. We will never understand it all until we reach heaven.

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Back to the song, “Love Of God.”  The third stanza is especially astounding as a writer, where it speaks of writing about the love of God. 

Imagine if the whole ocean was filled with ink, the whole sky was a piece of paper, every weed on earth was a pen, and every person was a writer. The piece of paper produced would stretch from one end of the world to the other, and still would not be able to explain how much God loves us.

Romans 8:38-39—“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It’s time to be quiet and let God speak to you.

This video made me smile. I hope it does the same for you. I loved the teens and children praising God in liturgical movement.

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The words to the hymn: “The Love Of God”

  1. The love of God is greater far
    Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
    It goes beyond the highest star,
    And reaches to the lowest hell;
    The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
    God gave His Son to win;
    His erring child He reconciled,
    And pardoned from his sin.

    • Refrain:
      Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
      How measureless and strong!
      It shall forevermore endure—
      The saints’ and angels’ song.
  2. When hoary time shall pass away,
    And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
    When men who here refuse to pray,
    On rocks and hills and mountains call,
    God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
    All measureless and strong;
    Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
    The saints’ and angels’ song.
  3. Could we with ink the ocean fill,
    And were the skies of parchment made,
    Were every stalk on earth a quill,
    And every man a scribe by trade;
    To write the love of God above
    Would drain the ocean dry;
    Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
    Though stretched from sky to sky.

Quote by Kenneth Osbeck: “Frederick Lehman tells us that verse 3 “had been found penciled on the wall of a patient’s room in an insane asylum after he had been carried to his grave.” While it is only supposition that he was the one who adapted the Jewish author’s poem to leave us these well-known lines, if the account is true it shows in any case that he highly esteemed the message.”

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Here are a few links which may interest you. I found them in my research about this hymn. Watch out, you can get hung up on the interesting stories and songs! Enjoy!

This is how to buy a book by Smith on histories of hymns: http://www.amazon.com/Smiths-treasury-hymn-histories-authentic/dp/B00070TQY4

This is Mr. Smith’s short biography: http://livinghymns.org/bio.htm

This video doesn’t show all the verses but it is beautiful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNehKKPiuY4

This tells about more of the history of hymn and background stories of the hymn writer, Lehman:  http://www.tanbible.com/tol_sng/sng_theloveofgod.htm

 

Posted in Ancestry, God's Love, Hymns, Worship | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

My Father’s Arms

 

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I consider the week taking care of my grand nephews and nieces kind of like a mission trip I guess… I don’t know how else to put it into words. It was a blessing to me just as much, if not more, than to my sister or her children and grandchildren. I want them to know me. I feel like I do after mission trips I’ve been on. You come away from it with so much more than what you gave.

It was such a joy to present them with a clean house, relatively clean children, a huge meal and fun “find the children” game when they returned. The pure unbridled excitement of five children nine and under, seeing their parents after a week! They ran into each others arms with unending hugs, kisses and stories. The shared meal around the circle. Giving them gifts of shells and trinkets. How they loved to be snuggled into bed by their own mommy and daddy. This is a picture of true love. I’m privileged to have witnessed it. It was a night I’ll never forget.

 

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The point is…Am I like that? Do I run into my Father’s Arms every day?

It makes me wonder why I don’t run into the arms of Jesus daily like a child. Where’s my excitement as a child who is excited to see “Daddy… Abba Father” each day…and He longs to give us good gifts… He wants us to know Him.

Let us all think about how much He loves us and would hold us like a child whenever we need it. He created us, He’s with us. We just need to reach up.

Posted in Family, God our Father, God's faithfulness, Memories | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A FULL life

A few weeks ago, a pillar of our church passed from this life into the arms of her faithful savior Jesus Christ. She was 88 years young. I knew her, as she was “shirt-tail” relation to me. A short and abrupt sickness and she was gone within a week. I had the privilege of having a nice little chat with her after church just a couple weeks before that as I often did. I knew her when she was a young mom and we would visit her pool. Those two youngest boys would jump in and out of the water. Her rule was to sit quietly for one half hour after eating lunch. Then we could swim again. She brought up her children in the way they should go…

I see those children in our community now. They are all married, attending churches and know their Lord. They have children and some have grandchildren. This woman and her husband faithfully taught their family the principles that would stick with them throughout their lives. I can see now, that it has passed on to the third and fourth generation. She also married a second time after her first husband passed away. Again the legacy was passed on as a baton in the race that was set before them. Quietly, but gently and lovingly, this woman gave. She gave the most beautiful gift anyone can give.

Attending her funeral, I watched from above as my husband worked the sound booth. I took notice of things. There were six full rows of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. One of the granddaughters sang a beautiful song as a tribute to her dear grandmother. It was “Dancing with the Angels.” A touching and tearful time.

The service was conducted by our beloved pastor who recently left our church to take on a challenging job with our Synod. He is greatly missed. It was good to hear him preach again, and in his short and succinct way, he summed up this woman’s life.

He said she lived a FULL life. He referenced the biblical passage about Abraham, when he died FULL of years, in the book of Genesis. Abraham didn’t just have a full life because he lived to be a very old man. He lived a full life because of what he did, and how he WAS. He was close to the Lord and had many descendants.

Another New Testament reference was about Jesus saying in John 10:10, that “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

He described our saint who had passed on, as having the same kind of full life. She brought up five boys, and later another step son came into the mix with his sister. She owned and operated a golf course. Her passion of service to others was evident by working in food service even into her eighties and doing it with a plate of food and a smile. The way she did it was important. She loved to keep busy and serve others even at her assisted living complex. She lived her life deeply involved in her church. She loved the Lord.

That makes a FULL life.

What you do, is not as important as what you ARE. Her closeness with the Lord was something that intrigued people and made them want to BE in that realm.

Thank you, Pastor Scott Lokers, for inspiring this story. Your words really stuck with me.

Her faith has been passed on. Her contagious smile will be remembered. Her friendship and love with be cherished. Till we meet again…

Posted in faithful members of our community, Grief and loss, Mom | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mrs. Miller…an unforgettable teacher…and another in the series on trees…

A tree can have such special meanings and purposes.

You might ask what that has to do with a woman named Mrs. Miller.

"Mrs. Miller's tree"

“Mrs. Miller’s tree”

I have a schefflera tree sitting in my dining room which has endured. If you know me, and my “black thumb,” you will know that is a miracle. I’m so thankful to see that tree every day since 2006, to remind me of a mother figure in my life. When it gets new shoots every once in awhile it reminds me that life keeps marching on. Mrs. Miller’s daughter graciously gave it to me after the funeral visitations following Mrs. Miller’s death.  So many plants had been given, and I was so humbled when she called to offer it.

You see, this unique woman was my second grade teacher. As I grew older I realized how our lives have resembled one another’s in some beautiful ways. But I could never live up to most of the things she accomplished. She was a huge influence in my life

Mrs. Marguerite Miller. Most of the locals or those in Allegan county knew her. When my mom passed away she was one of my surrogate mothers. She also lost her mom when she was very young. The compassion she showed was evident by having all those little boys and girls write me letters. I still have every one that was given to me. They smell like pencils and crayons. Almost all the boys talked about studying magnets in class. The girls said they were sorry and drew some flowers. They are almost comical now. Some of you might remember “Think and Do” phonics books we did in elementary school.

A sympathy card which can still bring a chuckle...

A sympathy card which can still bring a chuckle…

We went on a traditional class trip a few months after my mom died. I was jumping up and down in the back seat of the bus when we hit a huge dip in the road. That little 7 year-old motherless daughter needed her and she knew the feeling.  When I went up to the front crying, Mrs. Miller’s arm was around me the rest of the way back to school.

After second grade was finished she sent each one of us a special story about the first man on the Moon, with a letter. She continued to teach us.

Story of the first man on the Moon.

Story of the first man on the Moon.

Her letter to her students.

Her letter to her students.

I became a second grade teacher after also teaching first, kindergarten, and special education. She took the time to visit my classroom. She did a presentation using those mounted owls that we studied. She must have been in her sixties or seventies when she made the 45 min. drive to do that for me. She gave me a children’s trade book that day, named “Owl at Home,” and wrote a note in the front of it. I treasure it. Generations continue on. I wonder if I will ever be asked to speak to a classroom who’s teacher was one of one of my former students. Will I take the time and effort?

Our second grade class, in the Hamilton Elementary yearbook.

Our second grade class, in the Hamilton Elementary yearbook.

In high school, we lined up at the elementary school for the annual Homecoming parade. Several of us who had her in second grade, escaped from our band teacher for a few moments to visit her as she was cleaning up and preparing her room for the next school day. She was all smiles to see us and remembered everyone’s name.

Once when I was a young mom, I took my own two boys to visit her. Mrs. Miller was a wonderful cook, and had insisted that we have lunch at her home. After retirement she was instrumental in the restoration of the old Allegan county jail and many historical projects in Allegan county. As we toured the jail, my youngest son had those “light up” tennis shoes on. She often commented in later years about how funny J was in those shoes. He’d stomp all over and jump from high places to see how often the shoes would light up. I can still hear her chuckle about him, thinking he was such a delight. She asked about my sons every single time I talked to her.

There was a small group of girls who kept in contact with her in later years. One day, we had a lunch date with her and sat outside to eat in a “booth” which was a huge swing. We took a picture altogether. It was Jane, Shellie, Sheila and me. Afterwards she took us to her home. After having a nice long talk, she walked us into her dining room. Four beautiful antique oil cruets were setting out on the table and we were told to each pick one as a gift from her. I have mine sitting on my bedroom dresser.

When my oldest son A was in basketball in high school, we took the long way to the game one time to grab a visit with her. She asked so much about his basketball which was one of her favorite things to watch on TV. She was genuinely interested.

A quick visit with a special teacher. She would say her hair was awful, and I have a lamp coming out of the top of my head.

A quick visit. She would say her hair was awful, and I have a lamp coming out of the top of my head.

Every year, a few of my friends and I made sure to go to the Allegan County Fair to visit her. She said she loved to work at the Historical Building on Friday and Saturday nights, hoping many of her former students would come by. Again she asked all about our families and jobs. That building was the first and last place I’d visit when I went to the fair, hoping to see her. It just wasn’t Fall, if we didn’t see Mrs. Miller. It’s not the same now, without Mrs. Miller…but her legacy lives on there. She was the head of the Allegan Historical Society and most of the reason we have the village area at the fair, which includes the schoolhouse, and the dentist’s office which used to sit in Hamilton.

Another time my son A was playing in a tennis tournament very near her house. I knew she was bed-ridden with cancer. I was reluctant to call, for fear of what I might hear or see. Her daughter answered the phone and gave the receiver to her mother. She would love to see me. As I lifted a spoonful of ice to her lips, she thanked me and asked how A was doing in tennis that day. She cared about my family till the end. My tears flowed freely when I got back to my car. I didn’t get to see her alive again.

Her obituary in 2006.

Her obituary in 2006.

A story which was published in the Allegan County News in July of 2006.

A story which was published in the Allegan County News in July of 2006.

The funeral was a beautiful tribute to a woman who had made a huge impression on her family, her students, and the community. They talked about her quiet witness of BEING the kind of person God smiles upon. Procession to the cemetery was slow. I drove alone and tried to stay back and invisible. Standing off to the side as the family had their committal service. Head down and tears streaming. I have gone back to gaze upon her resting place.

So that schefflera is a symbol of a woman who impacted me in huge ways. Yes, trees can have special meanings and purposes.

 

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Her funeral pamphlet.

 

A lovely lady whom I adored.

A lovely lady whom I adored.

Mrs. Miller will always own a corner of my heart like a second mother. I loved her. Did you have a favorite teacher, or one that you kept in contact with? If you knew Mrs. Miller, please tell us a memory you have.

 

 

 

Special thanks to The Allegan County News, by Tim Keith, Aug. 16, 2006. Thank you to the Kalamazoo Gazette. Heartfelt thanks to Mrs. Miller’s daughter, Jackie. 

 

 

 

Posted in Allegan County Historical Society, Allegan County News, Childhood, Grief and loss, Motherless Daughters, Mrs. Marguerite Miller | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

A Harvest Night

That fall feeling was in the air. The smell of corn husks and leaves. The chill that makes you pull your coat closed. Maybe I was 8 or 9 years old.

Often I’d sit on top of the warm pile of corn, with the lights shining down and the loud roar of the monstrous drying machine above me. There was a gaping hole next to me where the corn was taken down, and then up into the unknown. It was shaken and carried up those long augers and into a bin where it was dried.

Breathing in that grainy smell was somehow soothing. There was a shimmer of corn dust hanging in the air, as the last of the sun’s orange glow lingered in the western sky. One would rarely find me without a cat on my lap. One hand on the kitty, picking up some corn and letting it run between my fingers like a waterfall down. At times laying on the bed of grain and letting it mold around me.

The youngest of six on a large farm. Everyone else was busy. My Dad and brothers were driving trucks and combines. My sisters were doing grown-up sister things. The one closest in age, was probably being creative on canvases in her bedroom.

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The combine we rode.

Tonight evoked some memories. I’ve ridden with my brother countless times on the combine, but it’s been a while. As I climbed in, the orange in the western sky was still on display. As we settled in, the stalks were eaten up, the ears tumbled and were tossed about until they had to surrender. The corn dust billowed up and around the warm cab. The snow of this week was sunken down low. The lights near my brother were multi-colored, telling him a wealth of information about his labor. A labor he has enjoyed for almost all of his 70 years. The lights in front of us shone as bright as daylight.

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The view from inside the cab. Notice the tracks of animals. This is your bread and butter!

We spotted a few places where deer had laid down or made footprints in the snow between the perfectly straight rows. Rows he had planted in the Spring were now ready for harvest. The hum of the combine’s immense motor was so intense we had to speak very loudly to one another. A comment about the corn yield, our sons and daughters, his grandchildren, or a call on the two-way from fellow workers kept coming. We had a pleasant banter about so many things, with barely a lull.

Occasionally the grain cart drove next to us. The hired hand knew when to get a load. He would go to fill up the semi nearby. The semi was driven to the farm a few miles away to dry the corn. The process has run as a well-oiled clock for so many years. It’s so natural to my brother.

This brother almost died many years ago, shortly after we lost my sister Audrey. The farm accident was terrifying. But my eyes witnessed the horror a few minutes after it happened. There were many months in and out of hospitals. Wondering if he would live, and what his life would be like if he did. Maybe that’s why there’s a connection between this youngest and oldest sibling. Although it’s never talked about, it is felt.

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Reminder to us of God’s faithfulness.

He still loves the land. He is one with the springtime and harvest. He watches the crops in the summer like a father overlooking his children. When he began these yearly cycles with his dad as a little boy, it became part of his being. I went on to other things in life, and he has continued to be part of the earth and land. It’s what he loves.

As I climbed down the steps of the combine tonight, I noticed the stars. After a long week of early November snow, wind and cold, the twinkling band was on display. The black expanse was dotted with tiny specks of hope.

Plodding through some snow and mud to get back to my car, I was reminded of the fall smell as a child. It will always remain a part of me too. A certain corner of my heart will always be reserved for the country and land.

I know God has been with us in the past, and will be in the future.

The hymn, “Great is thy Faithfulness” has some beautiful lyrics which come to mind…

“Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,

Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,

join with all nature in manifold witness,

to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love!”

 

 

Posted in Childhood, Farming, Siblings | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments