Part 2: Beauty In Unexpected Places

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For the story behind the title, see my post, Part 1: Beauty In Unexpected Places.

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As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. – Isaiah 55:10-11

 

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The day is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon. It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.Psalm 74:16-17

 

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He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’ So that all men he has made may know his work, he stops every man from his labor.Job 37:6-7

 

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Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding. – Psalm 148:7-8

 

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He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes.Psalm 147:16

Part 1: Beauty In Unexpected Places

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We headed north for vacation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was counterintuitive as a spring break destination. We traded sandy beaches for rocky shores, ocean waves for the swells of Lake Superior, swimsuits for winter boots, and warm days for windblown snow.

Visiting family and a comfortable place to stay for free were the allure. However, we discovered so much more: the beauty of winter. The pristine snow sharpened the sky’s blue and the pine trees’ green. The cold breeze coming off the lake created intricate designs along the shore. White and gray displayed their own palettes of color. If the cold didn’t take my breath away, God’s handiwork in the winter season did!

At first glance, much in the Bible seems counterintuitive to the world’s way of thinking. “Bless those who curse you.” “Love your enemies.” “Lose your life to find your life.” Only sacrifice atones for sin. Death leads to life. These challenges to our human perspective are given clarity at the cross of Jesus Christ.

As the only perfect sacrifice, Jesus died for God’s enemies to demonstrate God’s love. In the ugliness and starkness of the cross, God wrought the everlasting beauty and glory of eternal life through Easter’s resurrection. The cross was the means and the price to provide for our salvation and the forgiveness of sins. The Easter story is our story!

May we approach and celebrate every day by thanking God who shows up with beauty in the least expected places.

(See more pictures of winter beauty in my post, Part 2: Beauty In The Least Expected Places.)

Romans 5:8

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

1 John 4:10

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

 

What Is Supporting You?

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My husband kept adding extensions to the stakes that supported our cherry tomato plants. He didn’t have a choice. The plants kept growing higher and higher until we needed a ladder to pick the ripe tomatoes.

I found it ironic that these plants reached such heights when the bottom part of the plant was so ugly. Withered leaves were constantly falling off to expose a seemingly dying vine. Despite real threats of disease and insects, the plants continued to grow and bear good fruit for us.

It is a timely lesson. We are to keep growing and bearing fruit for God in spite of disease, attacks, or circumstances out of our control. It is possible because we are in Jesus Christ! Jesus is the vine that supports us with His strength, sustains us with His nourishment, and protects us with His life.

Jesus’s strength was in His brokenness for us. His death on the cross was brutally ugly and is difficult for us to imagine. Yet, His scarred body is what gives us eternal life. May we recognize the security we have in Jesus Christ. May our response be to remain in Him so we can reflect God’s glory of  eternal fruit through our lives.

 

John 15:5

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

 

1 Peter 2:24

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

 

Time to Turn Back?

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Looking for blueberries in the north section of Dolly Sods Wilderness Area

Looking for blueberries in the north section of Dolly Sods Wilderness Area.

Blueberries: the day of hiking in Dolly Sods was all about the blueberries. Two miles into the hike, I was starting to get nervous about finding berries. We passed the patches that provided last year’s bounty of berries to take home. (See that post titled I Hope There are Blueberries in Heaven by clicking here.) This year, the same patches were not hopeful as the berries were sparse and past their prime. It felt like we were looking in the wrong place. Was it time to turn back?

Just when my answer became a yes to turn back, we met some fellow hikers. Our containers and meandering off the trail identified us as blueberry-pickers. The hikers cheerily informed us that we were very close to a great patch of plentiful blueberries. Their encouragement pointed us in the right direction. Thank goodness we held out hope and did not turn back too soon.

Sometimes we turn back too soon in our faith in response to our circumstances or expectations. Maybe we think we are on the wrong path because we aren’t experiencing the blessings. Or we are sure something better has to be elsewhere. Or we get discouraged because we no longer have the vision in front of us. Maybe we are simply tired of walking.

Those are the times that we need to push forward in faith, expecting good things around the next bend of the path. May the encouragement of others refine our desire to continue following God. Let’s remain committed to wherever God is leading so we can bask in His presence.

 

Ruth 1:16

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.

 

Exodus 13:21-22

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

 

A Walk Through Isaiah

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It is difficult for me to pick a favorite book of the Bible, but Isaiah in the Old Testament is a top contender. Digging deeper past God’s judgment of sin, we find promises fulfilled only in Jesus, assurance of God’s comfort, and anticipation of heaven’s glory revealed.

The beautiful diversity of Dolly Sods Wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest (of West Virginia) reminded me of a walk through Isaiah to discover earth-shattering truths that change hearts and lives to follow the LORD.

 

Isaiah 2:5

Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Red Creek Trail

Red Creek Trail

 

Isaiah 30:21

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Beaver View Trail

Beaver View Trail

 

Isaiah 40:4-5

Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Raven Ridge Trail

Raven Ridge Trail

 

Isaiah 42:16

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.

Raven Ridge Trail

Raven Ridge Trail

 

Isaiah 44:22

I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist.  Return to me, for I have redeemed you.

Beaver View Trail

Beaver View Trail

 

Isaiah 49:10

They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water.

Red Creek

Red Creek

So Close, But Yet So Far!

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Not Lion's Head, but a view from the trail to Lion's Head in Dolly Sods Wilderness.

Not Lion’s Head, but a view from the trail to Lion’s Head in Dolly Sods Wilderness.

I wanted to share a picture of Lion’s Head: the rocky formation with a view of Canaan Valley off of the Rocky Point Trail in Dolly Sods, West Virginia. However, I can’t because we never found it on our hike.

Oh we tried to find it. We prepared by checking maps and following advice from online hiking blogs before we even ventured out. We planned the hike for the near-perfect day and weather conditions. We hiked the ten mile loop. And we failed.

We were very close, I know it! We scrambled up rocks, but did not get to the promised view. We checked out other routes marked by cairns (rock piles left by other hikers to indicate a trail). Everything led to more dead ends. With our energy waning and time limited, we had to move on.

I have to admit that I was disappointed. The spectacular view of Lion’s Head was the purpose and the highlight of this hike. Despite the fresh mountain air, the sound of streams and nature’s best surrounding me, I longed for the something more that we missed.

I think of the patriarchs of faith. God placed a vision of His promise in their hearts. Hebrews 11:13 shares how these patriarchs felt about not receiving the promise in their lifetime: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.”

May we have the same faith to know, to embrace and to confess Jesus in our hearts. May we consider the life lived in the flesh as preparation for heaven.  May our longing always be for heaven, that which is hoped for, but not yet seen. May we trust God to make good on His promises. God will bring us home and share His view of our glorious inheritance in Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Isaiah 33:17

Your eyes will see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar.

 

A Sweet Surprise

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Bruised, misshapen and downright ugly: a good friend offered me a bag of mid-summer Lodi apples. I was skeptical at first. What would I do with these smaller-than-normal apples? What would I want to do with these apples that were characterized by their imperfections?

My friend raved about the applesauce made from these summer-ripened apples processed through a food mill. She convinced me that the time and effort were worth it. All I needed to do was quarter the apples and remove the bigger bruises, bug trails and stems. The food mill would do the hard work and separate the peel, seeds and “junk” from the desired smooth applesauce. The result was surprisingly wonderful. The applesauce was tangy with just enough sweetness: a unique flavor all its own.

We can go through life and end up with evidence of attack, bent out of shape and feeling small. God still accepts us, even embraces us with our imperfections. God is able to bring sweetness out of the ugliness and into our lives. It may seem a far-fetched possibility, but the result is always based on God’s character, not ours.

At times, we need someone to remind us of the vision and reassure us of God’s goodness in our lives. Jesus Christ on the cross speaks volumes about the love that makes it possible. Let’s reach out to God in the ugliness of life, knowing that His presence is the sweetness and His glory is the proof of the results.

Psalm 34:8

Taste and see that the LORD is good, blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

2 Corinthians 2:14

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.