Aware of Her Surroundings

This morning, I tell my daughter that her big “growth area” this year is to learn to be aware of her surroundings. For example, we stand in her bedroom, and I ask her, “What do you see here? Take a minute to really look.”

She quickly scurries to pick up tissues, old water bottles, scattered school notes, and random pieces of yarn. This is a child who stays in her creative mind all day long. Who has time to look around at external surroundings when internal existential thoughts compete for attention?

I think about surroundings all morning and my hope that she and I both would see and respond.

My mind goes to Psalm 32:7 where the once despairing King David writes to God, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

Am I surrounded with songs of deliverance? If so, I’m desperately unaware.

I read Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on this one verse, and I begin to see my surroundings anew. Spurgeon says this about that one phrase, “surround me with songs of deliverance”:

“What a golden sentence! The man is encircled in song, surrounded by dancing mercies, all of them proclaiming the triumphs of grace. There is no breach in the circle, it completely rings him round; on all sides he hears music. Before him hope sounds the cymbals, and behind him gratitude beats the timbrel. Right and left, above and beneath, the air resounds with joy, and all this for the very man who, a few weeks ago, was roaring all the day long. How great a change! What wonders grace has done and still can do! Selah. There was a need of a pause, for love so amazing needs to be pondered, and joy so great demands quiet contemplation, since language fails to express it.”

I am surrounded by dancing mercies! I pray that I open my eyes to see and hear them. What do I see here? I take a minute to really look.

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You are my hiding place;

you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.  



My Scary Baking Attempt: Low-Sugar Lemon Rhubarb Cake

My neighbor tells me the advice she gives to her daughter to “try one thing each day that scares you.”

We’re standing over her rhubarb patch where she’s harvesting rhubarb for me to use.

“Using rhubarb scares me,” I say. “That will be my scary thing today.”

I take the rhubarb home and search for sugar-free or low sugar recipes (because my family is trying to cut down on sugar). I find this delicious low-sugar Strawberry Rhubarb Crunch recipe, but I don’t have any oats.

Instead, I do something scary: I improvise.

I toss into my bowl the following: 2 cups chopped rhubarb, 2 cups frozen mixed berries, the juice from a lemon, a tablespoon honey, a teaspoon vanilla, a cup flour, 1/2 cup stevia, a cup of greek yogurt, a teaspoon cinnamon, 2 eggs, and 1/4 cup milk.

I bake the glorious batter at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. It comes out deliciously thick, moist, tart, and yummy. If you want it sweeter, add in some sugar or more stevia. One could also sweeten it up with some ice cream or whipped cream, but again, I love tart things.

Enjoy! And now I’m on to try some other scary feat!

A Low-Sugar Rhubarb Cake 



Standing Behind, Over the Shoulder

A wise mentor recently taught me a leadership principle called “over-the-shoulder” leadership.

Imagine you’re leading by facing in the same direction and encouraging others in what they alone can do. In over-the-shoulder leadership, nobody’s facing you and looking to you for all the answers. You stand behind others and point them onward and upward toward their goals. You equip and inspire, but ultimately, you’re in the background.

You’re not front and center. You’re not the point.

This afternoon, my daughter asks for help with her math homework. I’m literally standing and gazing over her shoulder at the task she must do (it’s her task, not mine). I have no idea how to help her because I’m terrible at math. Instead, I put my hand on her shoulder and ask her what she knows and then what she needs to know. Then I don’t say anything at all for a while. Sometimes, I point out a strategy or a key piece of information, but other than that, it’s really me over her shoulder, encouraging her to do what she herself must do. 

I want to be the kind of person that encourages and enables by standing behind, over the shoulder.

This is an important image to remember if you’re a leader or mentor who struggles with balance and boundaries in leadership, parenting, and friendship. Over-the-shoulder leadership empowers others and keeps you in your proper place.



Today I make my first ever terrarium. Some friends gather to create these darling little gardens encased in various glass containers. My friend Bec teaches me all about succulents. I assume she means some fancy dessert, but no. Succulents are a special kind of plant that retains water in order to survive unfavorable seasons of dryness. Think cactus. Think aloe.

For my first terrarium, I choose hens-and-chicks and a panda plant as my succulents. I learn how to layer pebbles, activated charcoal (a natural filter and freshener), moss, potting mix, and whatever decorations I want (shells, pebbles, sand, etc.).

This is my kind of garden. You only need to lightly water a terrarium about once a month.

I keep my terrarium by my writing desk. I love what those succulents symbolize; like them, I want to store up all the beauty and truth I can, fattening myself up with joy, so I’m able to flourish in the driest season.

I also took all the supplies home to let my daughters build their own terrariums in little jars. I love this as a fun spring activity. Thank you to my friend, Bec, for teaching me!


The Cowbird and the Finch: Cruel, Cruel Nature!

My neighbor has a beautiful nest of finch eggs in the hanging plant on her porch. I’m so excited! Just knowing they sit there makes me happy.

We take photos today, but we learn something awful; the brown-headed cowbird (a type of blackbird) has snuck an egg into the finch’s nest. This parasitic bird searches around for hardworking nest builders, and instead of building her own, she lays an egg into this mother’s nest–often pushing one of the finch eggs out to make room. In other words, this bird is a brood parasite who does whatever it takes to ensure her egg’s success. 

It gets worse. The intruder egg will hatch before the others and will grow fast and large, consuming all the food meant for the finch babies. Why does she do this? Well, God made this bird species too, so I have to wonder about her behavior. I learn this:

The brown-headed cowbirds grow their population so quickly in the spring because they focus exclusively on laying eggs. All of their energy, all of their resources, and all of their time is spent on this activity. The brown-headed cowbird maximizes output, but this all comes at the expense of others.

The finch will just raise the intruder bird as her own, not knowing what she’s doing, not knowing that she’s jeopardizing her own offspring. Oh, cruel nature!

I’m so mad at that cowbird. I’m so mad about those that exploit and damage others for their own success. I’m so mad about the finch that doesn’t have the intelligence to know she’s being manipulated and violated. Or, maybe that finch does know but has some kind of bird compassion that makes her care for the cowbird chick. But then, what about those other chicks who suffer because of her compassion?

Nature is too complex for me today. I wish the cowbird would build her own nest, even if it means her species isn’t the most numerous or the best. I wish the finch would learn how to feed everyone equally.

I don’t want to be a cowbird or a finch in this reflection. I suppose I can learn from both birds, though.


Terrible Things. Don’t Be Afraid.

We have a skunk family living under our back deck. The big mama skunk came out from hiding when I was hosing down the back deck after planting some wildflowers two days ago.

My daughter and I screamed our heads off and ran into the house. I called the Pennsylvania Wildlife people, and they reacted like this was no big deal and not to do anything. This skunk family has probably been living peacefully alongside of us for years and years.

It comes with the territory; we live near the woods.

I think about what comes with the territory–what we must live alongside–just by being human. I’ve been reading Frederick Buechner, and I love how he says simply, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things happen. Don’t be afraid.” And I’m reading about consolation and desolation and how they’ll always be seasons of light and dark, joy and sorrow. Neither stays for long. Things go into hibernation and stay buried deep, but sometimes the terrible things lives right beside you for a season.

Terrible things then beautiful things. Repeat. This builds a life.

I’m not afraid. I swung the back door wide open last night in hopes of seeing the mama skunk parade her babies around the yard in search of food.

Desolate emotional and spiritual times are like living with a skunk. I learn that you just live peacefully with it, with a bit of wonder and curiosity, observing your own heart. Skunks won’t spray unless attacked, and even then, it’s rare. In the meantime, you can watch and learn about whatever comes with the territory of this beautiful, terrible human life.


Tied in Place

When you’re growing climbing roses on your trellis, you tie the vines in place so they don’t go where they’re not supposed to go.

You also invite a particular type of growth:

My husband ties the main runner vines to encourage them into horizontal growth. With horizontal growth, the main vine sends out many stems to move upward and creates beautiful flowers all over the trellis.

With just vertical growth, the runner won’t stem off, and you’ll only have blooms at the very top of your trellis. It’s a growth that happens too quickly and without any branching.

I glance at my trellis today and feel thankful for those years I felt tied in place somewhere. I wanted all this growth and excitement and movement, but instead, I stayed put and moved deeper into my community. I sent out stems that bloomed.

If I feel stuck somewhere spiritually, emotionally, or physically, perhaps I’m being tied in place for some horizontal growth. This kind of pruning makes for something exquisite, but it takes time and what must feel like an imprisoned kind of binding. It’s not this at all, but rather the necessary training for the roses to bloom abundantly.


Spin with Joy

This morning, I study all the different Hebrew words for “rejoice.” It’s because I keep seeing that verb over and over again in Deuteronomy and in the Psalms.


It means what you think it means: to be very happy, glad, full of joy, and even, in some cases, to flap about happily. To flap about! Imagine!

One translation means to spin with joy.

That’s what children do. That’s what people do when they hear great news. They sometimes spin and even flap. Watch a child do this, and you’ll know what I mean.

When was the last time you were actually spinning with joy?

I would like that kind of joy to settle into my heart and home. I would like to rejoice–like the Israelites did–over the provisions of the Lord. Instead of a gloomy heart, I want to spin about in gladness over food and clothing, shelter and health. What about spinning for family?

In Deuteronomy, folks were happy before the Lord. They might have even expressed this by twirling about. It makes me smile to imagine it.

I end my study of the verb rejoice by looking at Psalm 40: 15-17.

But may all who seek you<span class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(B)”>
    rejoice and be glad<span class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(C)”> in you;
may those who long for your saving help always say,
    “The Lord is great!”


Seeing the Unseen Thing

If you look out in my backyard, there’s really nothing to see. It’s a bunch of weeds. 
I decide to peer in a bit, and I find the most lovely little flowers. Miniscule. One cannot see them from the house; you have to get down next to the ground and really look. 
Nobody’s going to see them, so why must they bother to be so beautiful? 
Why does a whole unseen world of beauty exist beneath our feet, right there in the middle of our own backyards? It’s a lesson for me to remember: there’s beauty here, whether or not I perceive it. There’s magnificent design, astonishing sights, and wonderful growth whether or not I perceive it. 

Oh, Lord, help me see it. Help me know it when I only see weeds. 

Isaiah 43:19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Well, We Can Pray, Can’t We, Mom?

Yesterday, my husband and I separate on the trail so he can retrieve our car. I take my daughters and follow the sign that says “Park Office.” Easy. He’ll walk the two miles to get our car and meet his tired ladies at the air conditioned Park Office.

However, the Park Office isn’t at the end of our path. It’s far, far away. The end of the path is a strange parking lot. No Park Office. We’re lost.

I’m starting to get nervous. There’s no way my husband will figure out what random parking lot we’ve reached in this huge state park.

I’m sitting there, worried. I’m trying not to panic. We have no cell phone service and no way to find each other.

What to do? Well, I decide we could just start walking and hope for the best. This is a terrible idea when you’re lost. Suddenly, my youngest throws her hands in the air and says, “Well, we can pray, can’t we, Mom?”

So we do.

Jesus, help us. Send help because we are lost.

Right then–right then!–a dear, sweet park ranger drives right up to us–he looks like a skinny Santa Claus–and asks us if we need help.

Right then! Right then! We pile into his car, and he drives around until he finds my husband for us. Apparently, the Park Office was miles away. The parking lot was where folks got their cars to drive back to the Park Office. Who knew?

All I know is we were lost, and God answered. I see the way that our getting lost helped build my daughter’s faith. The purpose of that fear was to build faith, to get us to pray, and to allow us to experience God’s provision.

Well, we can pray, can’t we?