On Nature and Beauty {with printable nature journaling prompts}

IMG_3271

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”

“The glory of God is man (child, woman, mother) fully alive.”

God designed each one of us uniquely with our own personalities, gifts, and preferences. But one thing that God gave as a great treasure and gift for us all to enjoy is nature. I don’t know about you but when I think of the quote above and picture a life fully alive it is one that includes time outside exploring and taking in God’s creation. It is a life with room for leisure, time to notice, to ponder, to slow down and savor beauty. There is something about being surrounded by beauty that truly does minister, heal and bring peace to the soul. Perhaps it is that beauty is God’s grace made visible and tangible. When I am in nature the swaying leaves whisper of His presence all around me. The vibrant, colorful flowers sing of His goodness… true beauty shifts our gaze off of ourselves and onto Him—it is a powerful force.

Yet it takes great intentionality in our fast-paced and self-advancement focused culture to value and prioritize things like beauty and nature. Who has time to get out in nature and just linger there? With so many “good” opportunities competing for our—and our children’s time, any space for such leisurely pursuits is quickly crowded out. And our cultural views of beauty are very twisted— shallow and self-focused, immature. In his book Falling Upward, Richard Rohr talks about how it is mature cultures— ones that view life with a sense of “deep time” (thinking not just about the self and here and now, but of time more fully including past, present, and future) who have had the wisdom to value and invest in beauty throughout history. Such cultures or people are concerned with the well being of future generations and have the insight and understanding of what is needed to shape and nurture great souls.

As I gear up for a new school year I want to leave lots of room not to simply inform my kids with facts they need to know, but to cultivate practices that will form their souls. I want to create space that speaks to their spiritual and emotional aspects as well as their intellectual beings. Have you ever noticed it takes TIME to think? To meditate on truth about God and spiritual things we need time and space. It doesn’t happen in a life packed to the brim rushing from one thing to the next. And growth and fruit is not immediate but comes in season after seeds have been given that time and space to grow.

This coming school year, it is my hope and plan to get out in nature and to leave lots of space to let beauty soak into our beings and to ponder the many truths we will learn about. One simple way I will encourage this is through nature journaling. I will not require specific journaling assignments but am giving my kids a list of prompts to inspire them in their reflection and journaling. These prompt cards can be printed, cut out and glued to the inside of a journal. For any of you interested, I’m sharing them below. Click on the images to get the PDFs. The only difference in the two is the design— I thought the boys out there might prefer a geometric design over flowers. :-)

 

nature-journal-prompts

nature-journal-prompts-geo

 

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

 

Fillers, spillers and thrillers–subding my deck!

Geraniums–a great choice for my mountain home in a very large antique copper pot

In Genesis, God tells us to “subdue” the earth. This word has gone a long way to give me vision in my home–really it has.

I am wired, designed, crafted by God with the abilities, the intelligence, the skills to overcome disorder and to bring a mark of his artistry to my home and life. It is one of the greatest pleasures granted us.

To rule over something in such a way as to bring order, beauty, productivity. To know that it is a grace and glory of a woman to civilize and bring life and excellence in society. I am a purpose-driven sort of girl and if I have a reason why I am doing something, then it gives me more fuel for the fire, so to speak to accomplish something. To me, this is one of the fun parts of my calling.

Truth is, I love flowers and roses. However, my mountain home has resisted me having a  green thumb. Not a lot of great soil. Too cold. Rock and stone just below the surface of my 7250 elevation home. Resistant in every way.

Small pots of flowers at every little table on porches and back deck–these grow better!

Over the years, I have begun to outsmart this resistant earth to my subduing efforts after many attempts. I am often amazed at what little input I sometimes need to do things differently. I love flowers but I don’t necessarily have a gardener’s intuitive skill. But, Joy, seeming like an only child, because she doesn’t have a gang of kids with her like my older ones did, loves to garden–in spite of the fact that our dirt is plant and bloom resistant.

Pink Mountain Roses in a deep pot! Almost beginning to bloom.

I found that my roses are not prolific because of the infertile ground and rock and cold. So, planting them in pots, only high altitude variety, has begun to work well for me. You cannot see this, but I have 6 buds on this bush just about to bloom–I am a happy girl to see life beginning to thrive on my porch.

I felt like I needed some more professional input on how to master this mountain!
So, I asked a friend and her daughter to join Joy and me for a garden demonstration about how to plant professional pots a couple of years ago.
We all had so much fun–but the desired effect was so much better than what we used to do.
I used to go to Wal Mart, Home Depot or a little natural garden near us and buy some flowers and then pot them according to what appealed to us. But at this demonstration, they taught us a 3 point outline to make great pots for your porch or deck.
Joy’s favorite pot!
It has a fern in the middle as our thriller and 3 kinds of purple and pink flowers for fillers and again, some ivy to spill over the side, which, in the past few days has started growing a lot and spilling even more.
First, pick a THRILLER–this is a tall or dramatic plant that stands up above all other plants to give your pot a dimension–something that stands out and gives the pot some height.
Second, give your pot some FILLERS–those flowers and plants that will take up space or spread–pick a color theme that you will follow throughout your porch or area.
Third, give your pot some SPILLERS—these are those plants that will spill over the side to give dimension.
We were also told to get really big pots so that the water could be retained longer and so that it would not all evaporate on a hot day and have to be watered again.
This is a much more beautiful pot than it looks like in this picture. The purple plants are the thrillers, then two read plants fill out the pot–geraniums and the other tall red plant–can’t remember its name; and some ivy spilling over the side.   It has a fern in the middle as our thriller and 3 kinds of purple and pink flowers for fillers and again, some ivy to spill over the side, which, in the past few days has started growing a lot and spilling even more.
Every night, when it is not too cold, we have been eating on our front porch or deck. All of us feel so happy to be surrounded by flowers and also tiny blue lights that sparkle when the sun goes down.
I am still not a great gardner, but slowly over the years, I have had much pleasure in learning to subdue and master the cultivating of my own sort of mountain garden.

Richard the Lionheart and taking time to make memories afresh

Today, I am home after 4 weekends away out of 5 weekends. Whew! So happy to have had the conferences, and speech tourneys and have finished the book–but now, even though my house awaits cleaning and mail is in stacks and suitcases need unpacking and cabinets empty of food, I know that if I do not regularly rest my body and soul and heart–I will not last well and I will burn out. Life pulsing through patterns of light and dark, spring and winter, busyness and laze–illness and health–disaster and mundane–whatever seasons come my way, I lean into them and ride their waves instead of fighting against their patterns of washing through my life.

And so now, weary to the bone, but content of soul, I ponder just how I might visit my daughter, Sarah, who is in Oxford, before she returns. I think I may have a free overseas ticket–of course I will find a way to justify my secret pleasure–time alone with my kindred spirit, who always fills my soul and inspires me, as do her siblings, and so I plan my course. As I was searching, I came across this memory–(doesn’t Joy look young! Oh, my–just a few years ago, and now gone!)

So, I am thinking, a trip to my beloved Austria would be just the remedy to this soul in need of fresh stimulation, pondering, dreaming and rest–so I share this memory with you today. And maybe this is the day you need to take a break and make a memory, too!

***********************************************************************************

All work and no play makes Joy, Sarah and Sally dull girls. Recently on our mission trip, we had spent an endless stream of days speaking and giving out books and then hopping on another train or plane to go to another group of women with whom we would speak, minister to, give out books and serve. My children usually have to take care of other children, help serve meals, haul boxes of books and wait patiently for me to be through.

How delighted we were, at the end of our trip, to find a whole day free to do as we please. Since we had one free ride left on our train ticket, we decided to take a train to one of our favorite little towns that sits right on a quiet curve of the Danube River. Durnstein is the name of the town. It was a medival town with one narrow road passing through the small, ancient houses. Even today, only one car at a time can fit through the narrow passageway. Once when Clay and I were very young, we visited this town on a free weekend and stayed in the home—(bed and breakfast) where a wine press, over 900 years old, filled the middle of the house.

We chugged along through prim and predictably orderly Austrian villages. Flowering bushes, tulips, and daffodils marked the roadways and pathways and towns. Finally, we arrived at our destination. Story has it that Richard the Lion Heart went to the Crusades through Austria. When he reached his destination, he unearthed Leopold of Austria as the ruler in charge of the Crusades. In retaliation, when Richard was on his journey back home, he was capture by Leopold and place in a prison cell in the castle at the top of the mountain in Durnstein. He kept the whereabouts secret so that no one could rescue the English monarch.

Blondell, Richard’s beloved friend and servant, was a musician, seeking to discover the whereabouts of his master. The story tells us that Blondell strolled throughout the Austrian countryside strumming his lute and singing songs that were familiar to his king. He hoped that his king would hear him through the cell windows and respond. Sure enough, as he climbed around the mountain castle of Durnstein singing, Richard heard and sang back as a sign of his whereabouts. Blondell was then able to bring a group of English soldiers to rescue the King and take him back to England.

The morning we started our hike up to the top of the castle was chill, but sunny. The hike was straight up and arduous to my worn-out knees. Yet, with the encouragement of my younger hiking companions, Sarah and Joy, I completed the hike one more time to walk among the ruins of the old, remains of the legend tale. The views were incomparable as we looked out over the budding vineyards and caught the curl of the Danube winding its way through the sleepy valley. Rewarding ourselves with a hot, marrillen (the small town boasts of its apricots!) and cream cheese pancakes, lathered in whip cream, satisfied our overwhelming hunger. Then, seeing that the time was late, we literally had to run at full speed, a quarter of a mile, fearful of not being able to run another step, to barely catch the last train of the day that would return us to our friends in Vienna. What an adventure to put in our memory books.

Filling Your Soul With Love and Grace Divine

Claude Monet, Woman in the Garden

 

“I have loved you with an everlasting love, I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3

I have received thousands of responses to my blogs on child discipline lately. I see how many sweet ones there are who truly want to do the best and be the best for their children. But before I do one more post on child discipline, I just felt I wanted to tell you how very precious you are and how much your own personal life matters.

I awakened this morning with you on my heart. I know there must be many precious moms out there who are reading these articles and are feeling inadequate or guilty or condemned–or just worn out!  I have been praying for you all morning.

Motherhood is very precious to the Lord. As a matter of fact, the more I mothered, the more I came to understand Him, His love, His sacrifice, His forgiveness, His patience. Motherhood is not an easy journey. I kept feeling that I needed to have more children so I could do it right at least once!

And yet motherhood is a long journey, a hard and challenging journey, that will require much endurance with grace, much forgiveness, much patience and just a whole lot of energy expended.

You are truly important to God in the midst of it all. He sees you and cares for your dreams and desires. And so I wanted to write a little post just for you.

When I had my first baby, I had never even changed a diaper. I did not know how to hold a baby. I was unprepared for the task. I also did not know how selfish and self-absorbed I was. And I have to admit that over the years, there were many times when I did not feel loving or feel like a good mother or even feel like I wanted to *be* a mother. I was always committed to my children and always committed to loving them, because I knew God wanted me to. But I did not always like them and sometimes that made me feel guilty.

I just put one foot in front of the other because I thought that is what God wanted me to do.

So if you feel that you are not a “natural” mother, or you enjoy doing things outside your home, or you have other ambitions, please do not condemn yourself. I felt all of those feelings and had to learn how to balance the different pulls on my life. But God has loved me and led me through it all.

I know that there are so many of you precious ones with deep scars. Perhaps you came from an angry family, where you were criticized or rejected. Or maybe you were ignored and you still wish someone would notice you and love you deep inside in those places that only you can feel.

Many of you made some bad choices morally that have deeply injured your own heart. Or you have a passive and indifferent or mean and abusive husband.

You are not defined by any of these things–not by what people have said to you, not by your flaws (we all have them), and not by your past failures or present difficulties. God loves you so very much. God is with you. God is your champion.

We read that when He looked out on the multitudes, He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus sees our needs. He loves us. He cares for how each of you feel deep in your heart.

You are so very precious to God. He is on your side. He will be your warrior God in all the battles in your home. He will help you and defend you and pour out His unconditional love on you. He is the source of your strength and joy. Nothing can separate you from His love. Romans 8

There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

The only way we can truly make it in this life productively is to tend to the garden of our own souls. The only way you can be a loving mother or friend is to have your soul filled with the deep, unchanging, unconditional love of God.

I love the picture above. I picture my soul as a garden that must be tended and cultivated and watered. If my own soul is healthy, then all who draw from my soul, will receive true nurture and strength. However, I do not know of any great women who have not been very intentional about cultivating and building themselves into godly women. They invested purposefully to become who they are.

A wise woman builds her house, but it starts with a plan!

You may find criticism from the world. But in Christ, you will find love, deep, abiding, unconditional love and all that you need for your task. But you must choose to invest your time wisely.

So what are some ways to fill your own soul so that you may have strength and love to give?

1. Surround yourself with good and godly friends.

I once heard a speaker say that he will do anything to put himself in the company of people who make Him want to love God more, who make Him want to be a better person–who inspire Him. But that he would avoid all of those who spread poison or gossip or discouragement as much as possible.

I have a friend, Phyllis, who I know will always point me to God. Just being with her is like being in the presence of the Lord’s encouragement, because she walks with Him and points me to him. Gwen is such a friend, and Deb, Shelley, Lynn, Beth and Sarah and Joy, ……….I gather these friends over the years and invest in them because they invest in me.

Find those friends, challenge a friend to be a prayer partner, to study a book together, to meet with you on a regular basis.

2. Spend time every day with the Lord. Find books, resources, people who can help you with this. (Go though the Psalms and circle or underline every promise or character quality of God. Read one chapter of John or Matthew a day and write down one lesson you have learned. Read through Philippians and note all the ways Paul tells us to follow Jesus.)

3.  Clean out your soul on a regular basis–get rid of the rubbish that has kept you from experiencing God’s love. (If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us from our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.) Don’t hang on to bitterness or condemnation–it will poison you. I have a friend, Sarah Mae, who is dear to me as though she were a daughter. She has recently published an ebook called Core Lies, that she is offering for free. We must rid our hearts from lies that would keep us from experiencing the generous love of God.

4. Surround yourself with books, blogs, people who feed your mind on truth, who draw you to become a better self.  There are many, many women in my life who do that to me. But I wanted to point you to three of my favorites.

I love these women because they have chosen to have integrity in their lives when no one was looking. They have invested thousands of hours in the presence of God. They have chosen to love and serve Him, to always turn in the direction of faith. I know they are not perfect, but they hold fast to a Faithful God who carries them. They are also seasoned women who have chosen to faithfully love and serve their children, and husbands, even amidst challenging times. They have weathered life and from that weathering, have garnered stories of His faithfulness. Feed on their life-giving words. I do so love these women.

Brenda Nuland– a mother of two grown children, who cultivates life, beauty, goodness and faithfulness in her home.Brenda always encourages me, feeds my soul and gives me loyal friendship.

Elizabeth Foss–a sweet mother of 9 children, whose devotion to God, gentle mothering of her children, and great thoughts always challenge me. She is humble and loyal as a friend and has learned to persevere with grace.

Ann Voskamp-an artist with words and photography, who deeply cherishes her precious Lord and wants to sing his messages into the lives of those in her pathway. Her gentle, humble words are always filled with grace that she found from walking closely with Him.

5. Spend time in nature–his workshop. When I see the artistry of God, and rest in the glory of the canopy of His beauty, I find great peace. Creation was made for us. He designed the stars for us to understand His vastness–His strength and ability to be bigger than us, to show us His power. He designed color, flowers, mountains, waterfalls, snow, rain, to show us His design. When I invest time in His works of art, I am inspired to reflect His art and beauty in my home as a picture of His reality in an otherwise dark world. Creation nurtures my soul when I take time to observe it.

6. Restore, relax, recreate. Young moms need a break.(and old moms and moms of teens, and……..) They need sleep. Sometimes grumpiness or depression goes away with just a couple of good nights of sleep or time away with a friend. Moms need to have a friend who understands them and still loves them! They need to laugh and lighten up. Cultivate times of breaks in your life, times of just getting away. Don’t always be serious–it is exhausting.

Our bodies need a sabbath rest. I take my tea time every day with a candle, book or magazine. I collect videos and movies and series of stories that delight my soul. I surround myself with music everywhere–at home, in the car, at dinner, when I am in a plane. I love rhythms and movement. I make time for cherished friends. I make fun for myself with my children so that we can just laugh and play and store up humor–everyone needs a break. (Read my daughter, Sarah’s blog post from a couple of days ago–Christians need to learn how to lighten up and have fun.)

These precious ones are not just public figures to me, but in the privacy of friendship, offer such grace, humility, love and always make me want to love Him more.

This blog is way too long, but the point is, you are important. Your emotional, spiritual and physical health matters to God. If you cherish your soul and become a good steward of your needs, you will be stronger for your journey of life and more ready to meet its demands. But you are the one who must plan how to endure with grace and beauty. You must create a plan that best suits your puzzle of life. Grace and beauty and peace in the midst of it all.

 

 

Sunday Pondering ~ Love


Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
I Corinthians 13:4-8a

When I graduated from college, I worked on the staff of Campus Crusade for 2 years at the University of Texas and then I moved to Eastern Europe to travel in Communist countries as a missionary. I had the illusion that because I had a committed heart, I was mature.

But since the Lord is a good parent, and He wanted me to grow into the likeness of Christ, and he saw that I was quite young, immature, self-centered and full of pride, he knew I needed more practice and training to become more like Christ.

So he gave me a husband and children, so that I could really find out what sacrificial love was all about. It has not been easy to pull out the weeds of expectations; to fight the storms of giving up my rights; to endure the drought of feelings that did not always match up to what I thought a loving wife and mother should feel in a happy home. But, I kept holding on to Him, pondering His life and seeking to be loyal through faith in His reality and presence, even though I could not always see Him.

Now, though still growing, I have learned so much more about true love, self-sacrifice, commitment. long-suffering–and it has all made me love Him more because I see how much of my life has required that of Him–as I have tested Him, misbehaved, thrown tantrums, and pulled away at times. But still He loves me and still He sacrificed for us while we were yet sinners.

Love, like the beautiful rose garden at Glen Eyrie Castle above, must grow over years and years to become mature. It must be cultivated and watered and nurtured and protected and worked again.

Thank you, sweet Lord, that you showed me the way and went before me to model real love.

“Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down His life for His friends.”

Love slowly dawns on my soul as I watch you  throughout my life, and I am humbled and brought to worship of you, the great Lover.