Weekly Photo Challenge: Enveloped

Yesterday was National Peace Officers Memorial Day in the U.S.A., and flags were flown at half-staff. I returned the flags to their full height on the church’s flagpole this morning and took a moment to enjoy watching them unfurl in the breeze. The invisible force of the wind, gently enveloping the light, nylon fabric of the U.S. and Iowa flags and pushing the clouds overhead, gave me a joy in the beauty of God’s creation. wpid-img_20150516_075640199_hdr.jpg

It also reminded me of the mysterious nature of the wind of which Jesus spoke in John 3. As Jewish leader, Nicodemus, inquired of Jesus about spiritual things, He told the inquirer that he must be born again. A bit confused, Nicodemus asked for clarification. Jesus illustrated his point with the wind.

Jesus answered, “I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”    John 3:5-8 HCSB*

While we do not see the wind, we hear and see its effects. Likewise, the wind cannot be controlled as it goes where it wills and does as it wishes. The Spirit’s regenerating work is like this. While unseen and beyond man’s control, the Spirit brings about new birth, resulting in lives that are transformed, enabling Christians to live differently than they did before. Thank God for the unseen role of the Spirit, enveloping lives and allowing them to unfurl in newness.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 HCSB

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This post is in response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Enveloped

Weekly Photo Challenge: Forces of Nature

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I just returned to Iowa from a 3,100 mile (4989 km) trip to the Grand Canyon (with a visit to the grandkids in Texas, too). This was the second time I’ve been able to stand on the rim, but the first for my wife. It’s immensity, 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and more than a mile (6,000 feet / 1,800 meters) deep, is without a doubt the result of erosion. The Colorado River (seen in this picture) is now that force of nature.

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Desert View Point (Colorado River in center)

With ever-changing shadows cast on the Canyon walls, our last sunset on Monday evening was the best.

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Sunset at Grand Canyon Village

This photo taken from Bright Angel Trail shows demonstrates the forces of nature as trees and other greenery spring forth from rock, finding the smallest of a foothold to germinate and grow.

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View from Bright Angel Trail

While the theories of the Grand Canyon formation range from occurring over millions of years to happening as a result of the more recent cataclysmic world-wide flood recorded in the Bible, no one can attest with certainty but God. Therefore, for this humble rural pastor, my observation of the Grand Canyon elicits praise for His handiwork as this plaque attests from Psalm 104:24.

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Scripture plaque at the Lookout Studio entrance.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Forces of Nature.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Motion (2)

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The beach in a place of perpetual motion. From the waves to the wildlife, there is always something moving. These pictures were taken last October on the Florida panhandle.IMG_0046

As much as I like my granddaughter’s wave jumping abilities, her shadow is pretty good, as well. Her expectant mom, with twins who were born in December, is in the background.IMG_0073  Granddaughter #2 gets to ride the waves with dad.IMG_0090

Cousins prepare for a wave that’s about to swamp them.

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My wife’s walk down the beach leaves the evidence of her motion.

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In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Motion.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Motion

I spent only thirty minutes watching an eagles’ nest adjacent to Gray’s Lake in Des Moines last Monday, but in that short time captured some of the domestic motions of these beautiful bald eagles. It was exciting to capture one parent’s return with some food for the couple’s two eaglets. Flying in, he’s bringing home the bacon, I mean the fish.

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One has to stay hydrated when working!

IMGP3530There’s always the need to remodel the nest…gathering up more nesting material.

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I checked the nest on Thursday and they are still at work, caring for their brood.IMGP3695

For more examples of “motion,” click HERE.

Celebrating the Gift of Our Matriarch!

Those of you who read my daughter’s post, “To Our Beloved Bunny,” know that my mother (aka “Bunny” to her grand and great-grandchildren) was in hospice care, following a severe seizure episode in early January. What I haven’t reported is that she graduated from hospice this month and is now in an assisted living residence.

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Today, she celebrated the milestone of her 95th birthday. I am glad to say that while not totally back to her old self, she has her humor, enjoys socializing with other residents, reads, watches Netflix (British crime mysteries her favorites), and is back to church.

What do you give a 95-year-old for their birthday? While Mom was doing well in December, my wife launched a plan for a unique birthday gift…a charm necklace. On New Year’s Eve, I put the idea out to the family on Facebook Messenger with the suggestion that her children and grandchildren supply a charm that in some way typified each one’s unique relationship with their mother/grandmother. While there was a hiatus in the planning once she went into hospice, charms began arriving when it became clear that we would indeed celebrate this special birthday. This morning, we gave her gift.

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The oldest granddaughter, who gave Mom the “Bunny” moniker, supplied a bunny charm. My daughter, influenced by Mom’s piano skills, gave a grand piano charm. The funniest charm is a set of false teeth that open. Mom had a knack of amusing the grands and greats by dropping her false teeth and protruding them from her mouth. The most poignant is a girl’s silhouette, representing a granddaughter who died at age 26 in a drowning accident. From a poodle to a camper, each charm brings back special memories of time we’ve spent with Bunny.

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Photo by Sandy Seals

Mom’s spiritual life as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ has been an example to many and she continues to be a witness of His grace (gift of salvation) to others. For that reason, my contribution was a Bible charm, a book that is dear to her as she has read, studied, applied and taught it for years.

Oh, did I mentioned that her given name IS Grace, the word meaning “gift?” We are grateful that God has allowed us to continue to have the gift of our family matriarch.  She is our own “Amazing Grace.”

Postscript: Here is a rundown of the current charms not already mentioned (I’m sure more will be added).
Hummingbird – Hours were spent watching these tiny birds at my parents’ feeders at their home on Kentucky Lake.
Camper – Our family camping history began in earnest when my dad took a guest professorship at Central Washington State University the summer of 1967. Three of the five kids accompanied the folks on that two week trek to Washington, pulling a new Apache tent trailer. It slept four, which meant I slept on the floor anytime we camped. We camped all over the northwest that summer and made some great memories. My parents eventually graduated to an Airstream and a motorhome, but I always preferred the “roughing it” years.
Washington State Ferry– That summer we traveled by ferry on the Puget Sound several times. That was my first time to be on board any boat that size.
Jackrabbit/Grand Canyon – On our return trip that summer we took a southwest tour and spent three days at the Grand Canyon. I’ve not been back, but have an upcoming trip I hope to share with you.
Hersey Kisses – We are a kiss on the lips family…sloppy and wet…deal with it.
Poodle – Mom and Dad owned two toy poodles, Gidget and Ginger. These were their dogs after the we kids were grown, and they traveled with them, so the grandkids got to share in the memories of these special pets.
Tractor – One of the sibling’s family farmed so there were lots of visits to this farm in NE Arkansas.
Book – Mom, a former librarian, is an avid reader and maintained the library at the senior apartment in which she formerly lived.
Dolphins – Our favorite vacation spot is on the panhandle of Florida where our family has been gathering every October since the mid-80’s. We have always enjoyed spotting the dolphins trolling near the beach.
Sand dollar – Our favorite beach once had sand dollars the size of your hand. Now, your lucky to see them the size of a dollar coin, which the name implies.
Quilt – Bunny made a wedding quilt for each of her grandchildren. Thus, a very tangible treasure for each of the 16.
Tennessee – Though having been born in Iowa and living here now, Mom lived the majority of her adult life in Tennessee.
Cooking Utensils – Well, it goes without saying that we like to eat, and Mom ran a good kitchen!
Heart – A contribution of a red heart charm seemed appropriate to fall in the center of all the charms. While I’m sure the grandson who gave it had the idea of love in mind, I think it can represent three things: 1) our love for Bunny; 2) her love for her family and others and; 3) God’s love for us that he demonstrated through the death of his Son, Jesus, whose blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Afloat

The migratory birds and water fowl are making their way north and passing through our area. Here are a few that have been afloat (on water and air) this past week. These American White Pelicans are getting some R&R on Green Valley State Park Lake as the wing their way to Canada.

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One of the largest birds in North America, the White Pelicans have a 9-foot wingspan. This pelican skidded in for a landing among the floating and feeding ducks.IMGP2909

Unfortunately, these were motivated into flight as I slowly approached.

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This male Horned Grebe is showing his breeding plumage, yellowish patches of feathers behind its eyes that it can raise and lower at will.

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The Canadian Geese wintered at the state park and have all but left. But they did enjoy being afloat both on ice and water when they weren’t foraging in the surrounding corn and soybean fields. (A few Mallards are in the mix of the group shot)

And finally, these shots of a Bald Eagle were caught at the park in early March as it soared overhead. At this point it appeared to see some prey with head and talons lowered, but the eagle stayed afloat on the winds, circling for another ten minutes.

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Check HERE for more examples of “afloat.”

Rainy Days and Mondays…

As I accompanied my wife to her Parkinson Disease exercise class this today, it was a “misty, moisty, morning.” It was also a Monday. Cue the Carpenter’s “Rainy Days and Mondays.” I’m not sure if it was the weather or the aftermath of a busy Easter weekend, but I yawned through most of the hour. I had the day off and spent most of it just chilling out, working on taxes and checking out some of the contributions to this week’s Photo Challenge. The day ended with light showers and the week promises to be wet. But it’s just what we need as the trees begin to leaf out, the flowers bloom and the grass starts to green up.

Dripping Crab Apple Tree

Dripping Crab Apple Tree

In my late adolescence and college days, I tended to be on the melancholy side of the emotional spectrum. Songs like “Rainy Days and Mondays” really DID get me down. However, as I began to sense more of my purpose in life as it revolved around my relationship with Christ, that emotional barometer began to rise. At least some of the lines from that “blues” song relate to how that happened in my life.

Funny, but it seems I always wind up here with you
Nice to know somebody loves me
Funny, but it seems that it’s the only thing to do
Run and find the one who loves me
(The one who loves me)

Though I was already a believer in Christ, my internal wanderings away from him, even though I outwardly appeared to be walking with him, seemed to be the trigger that brought me down. However, like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24), who came to his senses in a pigsty and ran back to the father, I found the loving arm of Jesus, welcoming me back when I repented of my wanderings and ran back. I’ve found no One better to run and find than Jesus, who has an everlasting love for me!

 The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. – Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Blur

I attended a  concert last week in which the artists, Tenth Avenue North performed their song, Stars in the Night. Before performing the song, lead vocalist, Mike Donehey, asked the crowd to turn on their camera phone lights. With lights shining throughout Wells Fargo Arena, I purposely took these pictures out of focus to get more of a more star-like quality.

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Hallelujah
We’re running to you
On fire from the mercy in your eyes
And through the dark
Singing we are yours
Your love will lead us through the fight
Like stars in the night
Stars in the night
Stars in the night
Lead us through the fight – “Stars in the Night” Chorus

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The band’s guitarist, Jeff Owen, describes how he and Mike wrote the song:

He and I sat down on his piano and came up with these lines around the idea of stars in the night. Old sailors had navigation only by stars. That’s kind of like our walk as believers when the sky is the darkest, the stars always seem brighter and more stars appear to guide you to where you’re going.

Click HERE for more examples of “blur.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wall

Cheri Lucus Rowlands issued this week’s challenge suggesting that walls are “the canvases of our lives: where stories are read, voices are heard, ideas are shared.” Here are a few walls around my town that communicate some pride and support of our community.

Apparently, no business currently occupies this downtown building, but its boarded up windows lend a bit of beauty instead of blight.

Boarded up windows painted in trompe l’oeil style.

Boarded up windows painted in trompe l’oeil style.

This mural on the local YMCA conveys Creston’s past as its railroad depot and Bluegrass Palace are prominent features, highlighting the role of transportation and agricultural in its economy.

Blue Grass Palace 12'x24', 2002, on the YMCA by Carl Homstad

Blue Grass Palace 12’x24′, 2002, on the YMCA by Carl Homstad

The Creston News Advertiser, our weekday newspaper, invited the Southwestern Community College Art Club to paint this mural on the side of its building in 2006.

Mural on the side of the local newspaper publishing building painted by the SWCC Art Club.

Mural on the side of the local newspaper publishing building painted by the SWCC Art Club.

Three of the four panthers on the wall of the high school gymnasium illicit “Panther Pride.”

Panther mural in the Creston High School gymnasium

Panther mural in the Creston High School gymnasium

Finally, the high school commons is surrounded by photos of the achievements of present and former students. In 1997, the basketball team won the Iowa High School 3A state basketball tournament. My daughter, Katie, was a cheerleader. The cheer squad made it their goal to lead the student body in garnering the “Sportsmanship Award” and they succeeded!

Creston High School Wall of Fame - 1997 3A State Basketball Sportsmanship Award

Creston High School Wall of Fame – 1997 3A State Basketball Sportsmanship Award

You can find more examples of this week’s challenge HERE.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Orange You Glad It’s Photo Challenge Time?

Starting in my kitchen and then cruising around town, I was able to come up with a little orange to add a dash to the waning winter weather (I love alliteration, too, Michelle W.!)

I especially liked the reflection of this storage unit in the melting ice.

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HERE are more examples of this week’s photo challenge.

Postscript (3/12/15): As I was taking these pictures last Saturday, a tragic event was occurring in our community. Three men, getting in what they perhaps thought would be the last ice fishing day of the season, unfortunately went through the ice and drowned in a farm pond. I personally knew two of the men, Earl Burkhalter and Jim Oshel, a brother of one of my church members. Jim had worked for the Iowa Department of Transportation for 38 years, retiring in 2008. Coincidentally, I included those bright orange vehicles in my original post. Today, one of the Iowa DOT’s trucks led the funeral processional to the cemetery, a fitting tribute to a loyal, long-term employee.

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