Beautiful Day

Friday, December 6, 2013

Counting Blessings (to Bible Bee and Back) Part 2

More battlefield monuments at Chickamauga.  And the view from on top?  A lovely evening sky and a tree line full of fall foliage colors.

Eating at restaurants we don't get to eat at in our part of the country. 
It's true that overall, we don't love to eat out.  The food and atmosphere is so much better at home.  But we do enjoy the occasional eating-out treat.  Since we had to do this more often on our vacation, we made it a point to go to our favorite places that we never get to go to, and that we wouldn't go to any that we could go to "at home."  So, though some may think this humorous, here is our list:
Chick-Fil-A (yumm....peppermint chocolate chip shakes), Cracker Barrel (our older ones love the rustic country décor, the southern-style food, sweet tea, AND that there are NO television sets in this restaurant), and Carabbas (a favorite date place for Tender Warrior and I when we lived in NC).  We also did get in our pulled pork barbeque meal at a Bible Bee event. We also ate at Outback, and we do have those here, but not locally, and we never go there.

A little walk through the bamboo forest at an arboretum
 Bamboo is such an interesting plant.

Seeing Scripture displayed in public places
We wished we had time to walk through this arboretum--it was beautiful and such a gorgeous, though chilly, morning.  But they had a little driving tour through the riding, and we opted for that since we were on our way to Bible Bee that day.
Speaking of Bible Bee....we made it!  The children had a contest day of both successes and disappointments.  It's one tough test, folks.  As it ought to be, on a national level.  It was a rewarding experience for the three of them to make it this far and to share the journey with many friends.  Regardless of final results, the winning was really in the preparation and knowing God's Word more deeply and thoroughly than before.  It's a season of very intensive study.  No one loses at this contest, not a one!

Watching our children, and our friends' children, be rewarded for all of their diligent efforts.

After testing is done?  A great time of play at the water park!  My girls talked me into the "Storm Chaser" right off the top.  It was really quite fun, though that drop like a roller coaster certainly made me scream!  All of the rest were easy-peasy after this one.  And just a whole lot of fun.

Our last stop, when the National Bible Bee was done and good-byes were said, was a whirlwind day trip through Asheville.  Oh, the memories!  We lived here a few years and truly loved it.  Since we had limited time, we decided we needed to return to the Biltmore Estate.  We spent lots of time here when we lived in Asheville.  They are some of my fondest memories of exploring outdoors and enjoying gardens with my then-little-girls.

Yes, being a tourist-oriented place, it was all decked out for Christmas.  The estate has changed a bit since we left there, but is still entirely charming.  The only "down" side is that an arctic front had just moved through and it was a high of 25 degrees on this day!  We were VERY cold.

We did the Candlelight Christmas Evenings tour this year and it was spectacular!  We never did this one when we lived there, and since we came upon a special deal when we were planning our trip in the fall we thought it the perfect opportunity.  The roaring fireplaces, stunning banquet hall tree, trees and lights throughout, gingerbread replica of the house, and the beautiful choir, harp, and hammered dulcimer music performances just made an exquisite experience.  It was a cold evening, but the ambience here was so very warm.  Have you ever seen the library?  It was all we could do to not jump over the cord railing (to keep you on the tour and out of the room), pull up a seat by the roaring fireplace, and start reading!

There was a wedding this evening (and you can barely see the bride and groom to the left of the Christmas tree).  We thought they must surely be freezing!
4 states in one day! 
Now it's time to go home.  It was a long travel day, actually setting foot in four states during the journey (and in case you're wondering, we were heading to the airport for our flight.  This was not a driving trip, but we did drive from the airport to our destinations).  A little sadness felt by all that our adventures were over for now.  There were so many blessings to recount, and a few challenges.  God was very good to us in them all.  Memories together are so worth the making!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Counting Blessings (to Bible Bee and Back) Part 1

Littlest Warrior's first airplane trip

Finding a van to rent that would fit us all (and our luggage)!

Plantation homes in the south.  Made me feel a little bit like I was in Tara.

My dearest husband (and how he indulges my photographic whims with such grace) :)

Playing miniature golf with my children on this fun "Great Locomotive Chase" themed golf course.  If you haven't seen the Disney movie, it's a good depiction of a famous Civil War story.
A glorious early morning hike with my older girls around the base of Stone Mountain.  Gorgeous fall colors were still left here.
The first morning of our trip we woke up to this and thought we were back home!  The tram operator said, "It's like this about 4 or 5 days a year here." did we land on one of those?  This was our only day to enjoy Stone Mountain, so it was quite disappointing weather-wise, but we made the best of it.  We could not see the infamous carving, except for standing right up underneath it and making out the bare outlines of it.  At the end of the day, they closed the park early due to the wet weather, and the possibility of thunderstorms (this was the eve of the big tornadoes in the Midwest).  The thunderstorms never came, thankfully.  When we inquired at the desk, they offered to give us a full refund!  This was a huge blessing-in-disguise.  The next day we had to leave, but we made sure to get outdoors as much as possible, and we were able to afford a second trip up to the top of Stone Mountain so that we could actually see!  And God gave us a glorious 60-mile visibility day (and 70-degree temp)!  The best it gets up there.

Now we could see that carving in all of its splendor!  And the children rejoiced!
Stunning views from on top of the mountain.  I realize this picture looks like we are in a very precarious situation, but rest assured...the camera makes it look this way, but there are platforms of rock below and a chain link fence to prevent anyone from falling down the mountain!
More museums.  This one was highly anticipated for all of the historical relics it holds and because... is the home of  "The General" -- The infamous (real) train that the Union stole from the Confederates for one day.  It's the train of "The Great Locomotive Chase."  We could look across the street from the museum and see the place where the Lacey Hotel was and the diner where William Fuller and his crew were eating breakfast when the train was stolen.

Overlooking Atlanta from Kennesaw Mountain.
The imaginations of a young boy.

Amazing artwork!  This is an original painting by Civil War artist James Walker in 1874.  It is amazingly large and detailed.  This scene depicts the Battle for Chattanooga at Lookout Mountain. 

More mountain-top views.  Yes, we spent a lot of time walking and hiking, but we did not climb these mountains all by ourselves.  Thankfully, there are roads and tram cars for such things.  Still, we tried to imagine how hard it would have been for a soldier.  Truly it is not comprehensible.

This part of Tennessee was quite lovely (and still maintained some fall foliage color).  I found myself standing up here looking out over the valley and the mountains, feeling quite small, but amazed that I could even have such an opportunity.  And that God's people are spread all over this great land.
I am so thankful for such an adventure, for the preservation of so much history, for breathtaking landscapes, and for blessings both seen and unseen.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow.

Edward Sandford Martin

Friday, November 15, 2013

In Honor of Veteran's Day

We are blessed to live in a community that honors the military veterans of our country.  Each Veteran's Day (when the weather is tolerable), the children anticipate the celebration highlighted by an outstanding parade.  We might feel a little closer to this subject than many, but we have always felt it is our duty to pass on to our children the heritage of our country.  We live in a generation in which it seems a connection to history and the sacrifices of our forefathers are fast being discarded in favor of present "everythings"-- modern conveniences, lightning-speed communications, entertainment, and the sense that what is today is all that matters, and that those who have gone before us are outdated, old-fashioned, and out-of-touch.  Sad, to say the least.

So we make it our ambition to take our children to events that honor our nation's military, especially on Memorial Day and Veteran's Day.  Some of our best memories associated with these events are when we have opportunities to speak with veterans of their experiences.

So, just a few highlights to share:

I thought this one was especially well-done.  It made me want to go and shake each one's hand and say, "Thank you."  But as they are all on a platform, a wave of thanks had to do.

We have a friend who is a World War II re-enactor and historian.  This was his first parade march.  His first book is available now!

The most photographed segment of the parade is probably the Civil War re-enactors, as we have some who are particularly fascinated by studies of the Civil War.
And they still love horses, too!  They are the most anticipated parade exhibition!
Coming from a heritage of fire-fighters, I always like the fire engines, new and old!

We are grateful.  These occasions remind us that we don't enjoy anything in our country because we deserve it or have been handed it on a silver platter.  God has been merciful, and we really have no idea sometimes just how good we have it, even with all of the discouraging political decisions and the loss of freedoms that have taken place.  Real people and real families have suffered enormous sacrifices and even great loss for the blessings of liberty that we enjoy.  Remember to thank a veteran or service member at any time, not just on Veteran's Day.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Who Shall Deliver Me?

Now you might be thinking that perhaps my life is so put together and pretty, after the previous two posts on the joyful celebrations we've shared.  But it simply isn't true.  To be quite honest, there are days of deep struggle, conflict, and pain.  And those aren't so lovely or beautiful.  But as this place is where I write of how I look for the beauty that is in all things, yes, even the hard and ugly, I needed to write here today to collect my thoughts.  More than that, what I sincerely desire is to speak the Words of Gospel life into my heart in a way that truly impacts it.  Somehow going around just thinking thoughts to myself doesn't always feel very productive or helpful in achieving that goal--though I do believe it is right and necessary as well.  John Piper has said that writing helps us see things in a way we do not otherwise see.  I have always felt and understood this to be true in my own processing of what God is doing in my life.

This morning I came to my quiet reading desk where I spend time in Bible study and prayer.  The tears started flowing as soon as I read what I was "supposed" to be studying this morning.  A cloud of condemnation, waves of doubt, even a crisis of faith.

I came to the breakfast table a little while later and saw the Tabletalk magazine sitting there with the topic this month of "The Seven Deadly Fears."  I skimmed through what those fears were.  I landed on one, thinking it would speak most to where I was, but actually discovered it was another.  And in His Providence, every word of this article spoke directly to my present struggle.  I will likely spend a lot of time quoting because this is just the tool God used to direct me back to His Word this morning--and just what I needed to preach the gospel to my heart today.

God strengthen me to bear myself;
That heaviest weight of all to bear,
Inalienable weight of care.

All others are outside myself;
I lock my door and bar them out
The turmoil, tedium, gad-about.

I lock my door upon myself,
And bar them out; but who shall wall
Self from myself, most loathed of all?

If I could once lay down myself,
And start self-purged upon the race
That all must run ! Death runs apace.

If I could set aside myself,
And start with lightened heart upon
The road by all men overgone!

God harden me against myself,
This coward with pathetic voice
Who craves for ease and rest and joys

Myself, arch-traitor to myself ;
My hollowest friend, my deadliest foe,
My clog whatever road I go.

Yet One there is can curb myself,
Can roll the strangling load from me
Break off the yoke and set me free
~Christina Rossetti
This poem is quite a depiction of the internal struggle with self and the condemnation that so often plagues, as Paul so aptly explains for us in Romans 7:24..  If you have not guessed, the fear that this article addresses is "Fear of Self."  Right away, after a brief analysis of this poem, the author of the article, Kris Lundgaard,  makes this statement.  And I find it perfect.
"The beauty of the Bible is that it never leaves us to think we are alone in our fears."
I've found that word I was looking for......BEAUTY.
What was Paul's response to his own desperate cry?  To start preaching to himself.
"I thank God-through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin."  (Romans 7:25, NKJV)
Anyone else think it frustrating that we can imagine in our minds how obedient we'll be, and know what is the right thing to do, and be powerless to carry it out?
Then he continues on:
"There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." (Romans 8:1, NKJV)
What I had not noticed before is that Paul models for us how to make this move--how to go from self-condemnation to self-proclamation of the victory that is ours in Christ Jesus.  And it is likely that Paul learned the same from the models given in Psalms, like in Psalms 42 and 43.

I have spent much time in these Psalms the past year or so, and have only begun to unpack what's here.  These laments show a pattern that encourages me in knowing just how to speak the Gospel into difficult situations.  First, the psalmist shows his thirst and longing for God, yet feels distant and perhaps separated from Him.  Can you relate?  He shows his sense of oppression, and the feeling of being overwhelmed by grief and trouble.  A very deep and troublesome groaning inside (I always think to Romans 8 when I find my spirit so deeply hurting; those groanings that words cannot express). 
But then...HOPE rises!  The psalmist begins to turn from his inward laments, his self, toward God. 
"Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance."
~Psalm 42:5, NKJV
The author of the article again says this well:
"As long as the heart searches inward--reckoning up past sins, rehearsing past failures, bemoaning hardships--it will only find reason for self-doubt, discouragement, and fear."
Been there.  Am there, perhaps.
He continues on:
"We must preach the gospel to ourselves.  This demands that we keep our noses in the Bible, listening for God's voice, founding our confidence on Him and His promises rather than on ourselves.  What we will find in the Word is that though 'our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything' (1 John 3:20).  That's right--He searches our hearts more piercingly than our own conscience can, and He knows that we are actually worse than we ever imagined."  (Kris Lundgaard, italics mine)
I saw those last words and immediately remembered the Sonship course we took over ten years ago, in which the author was very fond of saying something very close to, "Rejoice!  You are worse than you ever imagined.  But God's grace is greater than you ever imagined."  Somehow it's easier to remember the first statement than the last.  The last statement is where we shine the light of His truth and gospel into our dark places.
Preaching this truth to myself has really brought about a peace in my spirit that "rules" over the circumstance.  Perhaps another way we were designed to take dominion in the image of God.  I've never thought of it that way, but it makes sense.  I find that I do have to "rule over" my sinful flesh with the Word of His truth.  Not an easy task...but most essential.
"God is on our side--even against our hearts...In fact, the thought that God would turn against us after giving His Son for us, or that the Son would abandon us when He's the very one who died for us and who lives to pray for us--well, the thought beggars the imagination."
And that, dear friends, is our only hope for deliverance!
**Quotes, besides the poem by Christina Rossetti and the Bible, are taken from Kris Lundgaard in his article, "Fear of Self," Tabletalk magazine, October 2013.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Celebrations Continue

Another birthday and another occasion to celebrate!  This time we were off to a local pumpkin and harvest farm.  We really like this one, as there are no scary-themed decorations, and they do such a nice job with their activities and décor.  There is something for everyone, and Little Princess was delighted to share her birthday with friends and family here.
Fun hay slides

Tall vistas from which to look out over the farm (and more slides!)

John Deere tricycles for little ones (and yes, even bigger ones try their best to ride these).  This one was yet too big for Littlest Warrior.  His feet could not reach the pedals, so Mama and Daddy did some pushing, and he scooted the rest of the time.

Lots of pumpkins to behold.  We did not pick pumpkins.  We actually have a pumpkin patch in our home garden, so we didn't need any more.   And do you know?  We discovered the "secret of the pumpkin patch!"  Yes, the pumpkins are sometimes "planted" in the fields already full-grown!  We saw a semi-truck enter the farm loaded with pumpkins, and when we went on the hayride, the tractor driver informed us that "4000 people have come before us" so that they were re-stocking the field, and very carefully and intentionally I might add.  No need to tell little ones of that "secret."  Let's just keep that one to ourselves, shall we?

There was a special little birthday area, that we reserved for the occasion, for the cake and apple cider we would share in between the playing. 

Beautiful scenes to photograph for Adventure Girl, who is right in her element on the farm.

And of course, farm animals.  Country Girl especially liked this calf frolicking and jumping in the meadow.  And Adventure Girl had a knack for putting the piglet to sleep (by rubbing its belly)!
It was a very successful party and we were blessed by the Lord to have friends to share it with, and GORGEOUS fall weather! 
We returned home, all refreshed from the outdoor activity, and in time for our own birthday dinner celebrations.  At the end of gift time, we reserved a treasure hunt for Little Princess to find her one last birthday gift.  Adventure Girl wrote the clues (and Young Warrior begged, "Oh, I love these!  Can I PLEEEEAAAASE have one again for my birthday?") and she was off on the hunt. 

At the end?  Her very own violin, just her size!  Something she has been longing for for well over a year (especially since her older siblings all play). pictures of it yet.
And while this lovely weather was holding out, we took an impromptu trip to the coast for the day on the weekend!  It's true we have plenty of work to continue at home, but we hadn't gone together to the coast all summer, and it was high time.  One must celebrate beautiful weather while it remains!
It did prove to be a slight bit more windy than we had hoped by the forecast.  So after playing in the ocean (and even for those who didn't), there was the search for a shelter from the wind.  Tender Warrior thoughtfully brought along these reflective space-blanket-like things.  And this is what they proved useful for.

We did have a blast playing in the little sandy dunes, running, jumping, sliding, enjoying the warm sand on the feet, and getting exercise.  This little game after lunch was enjoyed by the younger ones.  I think it's called, "Catch Daddy if you want a cookie!"

After a little bit of drying off and warming up we were on the road again.  We stopped at some overlooks in hopes of seeing a whale, but we had just missed the one that was sighted for the day!  And with a little bit of salt water taffy in a bag, off we drove into the sunset toward HOME!
"What is a family meant to be?  Among other things, I personally have always felt it is meant to be a museum of memories---a collection of carefully preserved memories and a realization that day-to-day memories are being chosen for our museum.  Someone in the least one person needs to be conscious that memories are important, and that time can be made to have double value by recognizing that what is done today will be tomorrow's memory."
"Memories (not all of them, but some of them) should be planned with the same careful kind of planning one would give to designing a museum.  A family life in retrospect should be a museum of diverse and greatly varied memories, with a unity that makes the grouping of people involved share at least many if not all of the overlapping memories.  Memories don't need to be just a thing of chance collection, but can have some measure of planning."
~Edith Schaefer, What is a Family?


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