Winter Snow

December 28, 2013 | My Jottings

Here in the Great Frozen North it feels like Narnia to me, like winter will always be. It would be so much nicer if the animals would talk and I could find a lamppost in a wood, and if Aslan was on the move. And it would also be nice if our forecast for tonight wasn’t for 40-50 degrees below zero wind chills.

According to those who keep such records, we have experienced our third snowiest December on record, with just under 40 inches having fallen in the past 28 days. Snow is again predicted for tonight and tomorrow, so we could actually break the record and then it would give we weather-obsessed Minnesotans something to talk about.

This is a picture I took by leaning out the sliding glass double door in my office, looking out to our back yard. The snow is almost three feet deep.

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And since I’m not done listening to Audrey Assad music, I thought I would share this music video called “Winter Snow” by Audrey Assad and Chris Tomlin. So beautiful to me. Have you heard this one?

A couple of days ago Michael and I had some free time before one of his latest doctor’s appointments, and we decided to go see the movie, “Saving Mr. Banks.” I absolutely loved it. I would see it again. Have any of you seen it? If so, what did you think? It was very melancholy at times, but I’m one of those people who never minds that kind of movie. I have friends who won’t see movies because they know they might cry while watching, but I’m not deterred by that. I wonder why that is? Is it because our days have become so numbed that I welcome the chance to cry about someone else’s sad story or misfortune? I don’t know. I would never want to see a movie like “Twelve Years a Slave” because I think it would do me in — seeing cruelty and such venomous hatred does me in. So I guess there are movies I avoid.

I made an easy dinner in our crockpot, with no recipe. I think it could be called Mexican Lasagna, because I layered corn tortillas, diced tomatoes, green chiles, cooked lean ground beef, grated cheese and enchilada sauce several times, and cooked it on low all day long. Everyone loved it and I served it with a green salad. I’m in a soup mood too, and since for Christmas Sharon gave me some neat white individual soup crocks for serving French onion soup, I’ll be scouting for the best recipe I can find online. Unless you have one, then you could share it with me!

Today I downloaded a read-the-Bible-in-two years program and Michael and I will be starting together on January 1st. This morning before we got out of bed I read two Psalms of his request to him, and we sang this song together as best we could. What an amazing thing it is to wake up with the darkness of Parkinson’s always in our home, only to have hope and peace settle over us as we read His Word and sing His truth. There is power in God’s Word and I thank Him for making His presence known to us through it. I certainly understand why the enemy of our souls does everything he can to prevent couples from reading and praying together. I’m so thankful for a good start this morning and how it set the course for the rest of the day, even and especially though sadness is a constant door-knocker since Michael’s ability to walk has deteriorated so drastically.

Here are two quotes that inspired me today: “As oil lubricates an engine, so meditation facilitates the diligent use of means of grace (reading of Scripture, hearing sermons, prayer, and all other ordinances of Christ), deepens the marks of grace (repentance, faith, humility), and strengthens one’s relationships to others (love to God, to fellow Christians, to one’s neighbors at large).” — Joel Beeke.

And from Thomas Watson: “A Christian without meditation is like a solider without arms, or a workman without tools. Without meditation the truths of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory is slippery, and without meditation all is lost.”

Oh, how I identify with the last quote. I’ve often marveled at my ability to quickly flip-flop from having a heart full of trust and peace to one giving way to despair, flippancy and hopelessness. I have seen a correlation to those latter beasts with my neglect of daily prayer time and slow meditation on the scriptures.

I could share more, but it has gotten dark and my husband is waiting for me in the living room so we can watch some TV together. The Netflix DVDs we have to choose from tonight are the British crime drama called “Silk,” the movie “Lincoln,” and disc one of the series “The Barchester Chronicles.” I’d love to know if some of you have seen any of these and liked them or not.

I’m thinking and praying about my one word for 2014. Last year my word was “honor” and I almost believe I should repeat it since I failed at it so frequently. Sort of like repeating a grade in elementary school, I might need to repeat the year of honor. Another word that seems to be a divine nudge is “gentle.” In my family of origin we had many good things passed down, along with many not so good things. But the gentleness gene faded from our family line years ago, I think. I’ve always wanted to be a kind and gentle woman. Perhaps the Lord will work gentleness into my life in 2014. Perhaps I will humble myself and cooperate with Him.

How about you? What might your one word be for the coming year?

O Christmas Tree and O Holy Night

December 23, 2013 | My Jottings

We usually put up a pretty tall Christmas tree, but this year I wasn’t in the mood to do so much. So Sara put up our small tree and we love it. It sits on a desk to the left of our fireplace in the dining room, and can be seen from the living room, kitchen, and even from the street outside. We used only a third of our ornaments, but every possible space was covered. I told Sara, “We don’t decorate our trees, we festoon our trees!” There’s something about heavily trimming a tree that makes it look beautiful to me.

This year we didn’t put our usual tree topper on either. Sara hung a crown at the top that makes me think of this song that we sang in church years ago. And you might have to click to see the “believe” ornament there, along with the feathery cardinal in flight. Three themes that will forever be important to me: Jesus is the King of the universe and all things are in His control, and the appearance of every cardinal (live or not) helps me to believe in all His promises even if I have to wait for them.

You can click on these pictures to enlarge them if you like.

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Over the years friends and family have given me many cardinal ornaments — how many can you count below? 🙂 There’s an older ornament roughly in the middle of the picture that is precious to me — when Sharon was a little girl she made it by taking the top of an orange juice can, pounding holes with nail and hammer to make an angel with outspread wings, and then she glued green eyelet around the edge.

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We have carols playing every day. What have you been listening to? My favorite Christmas Carol, “O Holy Night” always makes me cry. The words below are where I usually lose it when we sing this carol.

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On Christmas Eve our family will be coming over and we’ll have a meal together. Everyone brings something just like we did on Thanksgiving, so the labor is shared. We’ll have Beef Burgundy, Stuffed-baked Potatoes (recipe with photos here), roasted vegetables, panzanella, rolls and butter, and French silk pie for dessert. We’ll sing carols and maybe watch a Christmas movie too.

On Christmas morning everyone will return later in the morning after they’ve opened gifts with their families at home, and we’ll have a brunch that we’ll snack from probably all the live-long day.

I am always thinking, trying, praying about how to keep worshipful and focused at Christmastime…about how Jesus willingly and humbly left His place in heaven, came into this world as a helpless baby and then died on the cross, hated and misunderstood by most, to save people like me, who are hopeless without Him.

I pray that your Christmas is full of His peace and His joy….

What’s it all about, Alfie?

December 18, 2013 | My Jottings

Yesterday was a full one and I’m thankful for a day at home today. It snowed another inch or two, adding to the beauty, and nothing seems more right than to hole up at home with a fire in the hearth, carols in the air and a husband who still tries to belt out some tunes in spite of his Parkinson’s-related voice difficulties.

For the first thirty years of our marriage, Michael was always singing or whistling. Mostly he sang worship songs as he worked, in a fine deep voice that somehow carried cheerfulness and worship all on the same sound waves. “Ooooohhh magnify the Loooorrrd, for Heeeee is worthy to be praaaaaised!” or “The steadfast love of the Looooord never ceases, His mercy never comes to an eeeeennnnnnd!” were just two of the many in his happy repertoire.

These days, for whatever strange reason, he’s singing some new songs. His voice is barely above a whisper now, but if he exerts great effort he can “belt” out a line or two that can be heard across the room, and these are the songs we hear most often:

“What’s it all about, Alfie?”

“Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work we go.” From the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

And from the movie My Fair Lady, “I could have danced all night.”

I miss the worship music, but it could be a lot worse, like if in his older years he started singing rap music. Or the twangiest country tunes. That would be hard to take.

So yesterday a lot of things were decided for Michael. At his neurology appointment they tweaked his meds, ordered an MRI to assess the pressures of his slightly too-large brain ventricles, ordered a workup with a urologist, scheduled a four hour neuro-psych test, and prescribed a wheelchair. He is still walking, but with quite a lot of difficulty and festinating (extremely rapid shuffling) most of the time, so even though it seems so sad to me, I think having the wheelchair here is the right thing.

On a lighter note, a person I follow on Instagram (if you’re on Instagram you can follow me at JulieBalm) who owns two Schnauzers recently posted a picture of the bottom of one of her dog’s paws. She said they smelled like Fritos. Then another person commented that yes, her Schnauzer’s paws smell like popcorn. Apparently this is a Schnauzer thing. So of course I had to scoop up Edith and Millie to sniff the bottom of their furry little feet, and guess what? Fritos! How is it that a dog can walk around outside in the grass and dirt and (for us) snow and cement, and their paws smell like Eau de Fritos was sprayed on them?

If you have a dog, have you ever smelled the bottom of their feet? I’d love to know if you have, and if so, what their feet smell like? Maybe you’d like to go take a sniff right now so you can come back to leave a comment so we can start gathering some serious data on this phenomenon.

Here’s a picture of Millie, and the pathetic look she gave me after I smelled her paws. Look at the way she’s milking the situation, lifting her little foot to rouse all the sympathy she possibly can. She put her ears down and looked at me as if to say, “Mom. I don’t like it when you do dat.”

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This is the same dog who had the audacity to tinkle on our bed this morning. We’ve always suspected that behind all her quirkiness lurks a dog bent on revenge.

“You sniff my paws? I wet your bed.”

That’s all there is to it.

Send help. 🙂

Things are smelling pretty good around here.

December 14, 2013 | My Jottings

On Wednesday I asked those of you who visit here to pray for us, and I thank those of you who did. Our circumstances haven’t changed but I feel a bit better, a little more hopeful than I did on that day. I’m so grateful, more than words can really convey.

This morning when I got up to help Michael to the bathroom three times and was faced again with all this disease has done to his brain and body, I knew friends had prayed. How did I know? Because I felt able to cope, say the same things to him (without inner grumbling) that I’m apparently going to say for the rest of our lives, I felt patience and compassion and even a dash of joy in my soul. I know that was because friends prayed. Did I say thank you? Thank you.

And Lord, I thank You.

It’s snowing again as I write this, which means our temperatures are above zero (14, to be exact), but tonight we’re supposed to drop down to ten below. It seems like it’s been a long winter already and it’s technically not even winter yet.

My three daughters and I got together this morning for an early lunch at one of our favorite, always-crowded restaurants, and then we came back here to have our Christmas cookie exchange. Last year I posted pictures of our cookies and some decorations here. This year I only baked one kind of cookie but it’s my favorite — Spicy Molasses Cookies. Sara ended up working long hours yesterday, writing a long paper for a college class, and taking an online final, so I offered to make her cookies for her — Heath Toffee Bars. Sharon made Peanut Butter Fudge and Hazelnut Chocolate Cookies sprinkled with sea salt (yum-o), and Carolyn made another favorite of mine, Peanut Blossoms, along with Chocolate Ganache Peppermint Bark. Oh my. I might take pictures and post them later.

Here are a couple of pictures taken with my iPhone….Sharon has the longest arms of the four of us so she took this selfie:

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Sharon is in the back on the left, Carolyn is next to her, I’m the one with the glasses and the deer in the headlights expression, and Sara is next to me. 🙂

These young women are my treasures.

Here’s another one of Sharon and Carolyn at the restaurant. They are twenty months apart and certainly look like sisters to me, but they don’t look like twins. I mention this because you’d be surprised at the number of times people have asked me if they are twins. None of us get that. But we sort of enjoy talking about it.

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And on the other side of the booth, Sara and me.

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All three of my girls are so creative in such unique ways. And I also think they’re all so funny. They make me laugh, and I wish we had been able to spend more than just a couple of hours together today, but time got away from us and people were waiting in line for our booth.

It’s almost 4:00 p.m. as I type this and it’s starting to get dark outside. I just now finished cleaning up the kitchen from the whirling dervish cookie baking extravaganza last night! But the kitchen is clean, the lights on the tree are twinkling (that’s a romantic word for “on”) and I’m glad to be home with no place to go tonight.

My dear friend Pat recommended a British series to us so our first Netflix DVD of “Land Girls” arrived and Michael and I will watch Episode One tonight. Have any of you seen it?

I’ll leave you with a recipe of a wonderful concoction that’s guaranteed to make your entire house smell divine. Sara got this from a sweet woman she works for, and it’s simmering on our stove right now.

Simmering Pot That Makes Your House Smell Very Good

Place in a large pot:

1 gallon water
3 tangerines with 6 cloves stuck in the skin of each
2 limes
1 lemon (I cut the lemon in half)
6 cinnamon sticks
1/4 cup whole allspice berries

Bring to an almost boil, then turn down the heat and simmer uncovered all day. Or a few hours. Add more water as needed, as mixture cooks down.

Is there such a thing as a heartening fragrance? If there is, then this is it.

I would like to pray for you now. If there’s something you need prayer for, please leave a comment (as long as you like), and aside from myself, I know many of our friends who visit here will pray for you. If you’d rather not share your request publicly, that’s totally fine — just tell me to keep your prayer request private and I will gladly do that, and I will pray.

God bless you, one and all…

Wednesday’s Word-Edition 109

December 11, 2013 | My Jottings

Photo 50“I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe, more loved and welcomed than I ever dared hope.”

Elyse M. Fitzpatrick

*         *         *         *         *

This quote went deep this morning when I read it. I think my awareness of the first phrase in the quote is getting clearer these days. And that is necessary.

I think my awareness of the second phrase is growing too, but it’s still a bit fuzzy.

Seventeen below zero in our little part of the world today.

Since you stopped by here, could you please pray for us today? Thank you so much!

Walk This Way

December 7, 2013 | My Jottings

Sometimes there are places in Scripture I keep returning to, passages that seem like I’m supposed to camp in for a long time until the truths get deep down in my innermost being. Psalm 40 is one of these passages.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

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Blessed is the man who makes
    the Lord his trust,
who does not turn to the proud,
    to those who go astray after a lie!
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
    none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
    yet they are more than can be told.

In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
    but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
    in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”

I have told the glad news of deliverance
    in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation.

As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain
    your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
    ever preserve me!
For evils have encompassed me
    beyond number;
my iniquities have overtaken me,
    and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
    my heart fails me.

Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
    O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
    who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
    who delight in my hurt!
Let those be appalled because of their shame
    who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”

But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
    say continually, “Great is the Lord!”
As for me, I am poor and needy,
    but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    do not delay, O my God!

Psalm 40 — ESV

*         *         *         *         *

I realize the part of the Psalm that says “He set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” has all kinds of meanings. David’s words were referring to Christ the solid Rock, hundreds of years before He came to earth. And having our feet set upon a rock also means that when we travel God’s road it’s solid and not like sand, which can shift and be wind-blown and not give firm footing.

I’ve had the above pictures of these goats on my computer desktop for a few weeks now. It’s astonishing to see how they navigate such steep and treacherous ground with their relatively tiny cloven hooves. I think sometimes life can feel like this — like there are no wide open places to go, no green pastures, and that every step we’re about to take seems to bring no options except to cling to the rock or to perish.

When I look at the photos of these creatures God made to live and walk in such precarious places, I smile and feel awed and get teary all in one minute. There are days when I feel like saying “this is such a small, difficult path Lord. It feels too hard for us.” Then I look at these mountain goats and I’m reminded that it’s not necessarily the width or the ease of the road that’s important, it’s the One who can keep us on it, making our feet secure as long as we look to Him and follow where He leads.

I would rather be on the side of a rocky cliff with the Lord, than in a wide green pasture without Him.

Blessings and a Blizzard

December 4, 2013 | My Jottings

Hello my friends. You know, I really do consider my faithful blog readers friends. Who but a friend would take time out of their busy life to read a few words and see some pictures on a little rambling blog? I’ve known some of you for decades from my SoCal days (hi Denel! hi Tauni! hi Shari! hi Su!), know some of you from my many years in Minnesota (hi Carey! hi Linda! hi Sue! hi Diane! hi Ginny!), know a few of you because we’ve gone to the same church or are in a group together (hi Gail! hi Lorna! hi Pat! hi Kay J! hi Jodi! hi Kristi!) and I’ve “met” some of you through the internet even though we’ve never been together face to face (hi Kay S! hi Jeannie! hi Ember! hi Helen! hi Roberta! hi Connie! hi Linda!), and some of you are truly family (hi Sharon! hi Carolyn! hi Sara! hi Christy! hi Savannah! hi Dorothy! hi Debbie! hi Lauren!). If I haven’t mentioned your name it’s not because I didn’t care to, it’s because my 56 year-old memory has become sieve-like in the past few years and has officially lost its Steel Trap status.

We are in the midst of a three-day-long winter storm here in Northeastern Minnesota. We received over a foot of snow yesterday, are expecting at least another foot today, and the wind is blowing it all horizontally. You know you’re getting hit when The Weather Channel sends people to your city to stay for a few days so your weather can be featured on cable all over the world.

Edith and Mildred most definitely do not like this weather, and must be coerced out into the deep snow in the yard to go potty. Sometimes I have to go out on the front steps with them and say repeatedly, “Go potty! No, don’t come up these stairs Edith! Get out there and go!” And they understand me and finally give in and leap out into the drifts to squat. They might be outside less than one minute, but when they come back in their little schanuzie backs are wet with snow and they shake off vigorously and act so happy to be in the warm house again.

We’ve had Christmas carols playing ever since Thanksgiving, and this is what can be heard in our home today… click here and the music will open in a new window and you can listen as you read, if you like. I love the whole album.

I wish I could have taken a picture to show how densely the snow is falling. Instead I took this one of our large outdoor ornaments being blown about in one of the flower boxes on our front deck. As always, you can click these to enlarge them if you like.

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This photo below was taken from our living room, looking out toward three little crab apple trees in the side yard. Minutes later about a hundred cedar waxwings flew to the trees and gobbled up many of the cherry-sized apples while the snow and wind whipped the branches they were clinging to.

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Sara always puts a few live touches to things around the house, and here are some little pines she put in containers for our dining room mantel.

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I love this big mug below — Carolyn made that for me when she was in high school.

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And oh, when the weather outside is frightful, our fire is so delightful! We light it turn it on every day and I can’t even convey how grateful I am to have a cheery blaze for all our meals. And our in between meal times too.

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I decided to string together another simple banner for our living room, and even though it’s not Christmas-themed, the blue jays make me smile and it brings me pleasure to look at it. Banners and garlands are in! If you want to make something simple with the children in your life, google the word banner and/or garland and check out some of the beautiful things people are making. I saw one online last night made from red and silver cording and silver jingle bells! Gorgeous and easy.

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This sweet little cardinal scented wax warmer sits on Michael’s dresser in our bedroom. It gives a bit of light, and the scent of the melted wax is “clean and slightly masculine” according to Sara, who gave me the warmer. See the unique wreath behind it? That was a gift from my dear friend Su years ago, made from the pages of a hymnal.

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We don’t have our big tree up yet, although a day like today would be perfect for tree trimming. We do have our little bedroom tree up, however. Mrs. Nisky came to spend the night a week ago and she and I worked on it together. Then later that night as she fell asleep on her pallet of blankets close to our bed, the red and white lights on the tree were the perfect night light.

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This Friday my dear friend Sue and I will be going out to dinner and then later attending the symphony together. Someone gave me season tickets to the symphony this year and I’m quite excited about it. I took my granddaughter Clara to the November performance, Sue and I will enjoy the Christmas one, and then in January I’ll take Mr. McBoy, who listens to classical music all the time and will love it too.

Things in our home are quickly changing, and I don’t like it one bit. I figure it’s okay to say that since the Lord knows how I feel anyway. I’m praying constantly for help and strength and humility and compassion and grace, so that I’ll be a gentle, gracious caregiver to Michael. We’ve had so many visits from several professionals in the past weeks; a great older man who’s a Physical Therapist, an insightful and patient woman who’s an Occupational Therapist, an efficient and understanding young woman who’s the nurse who will visit twice a month. Eventually a home health aide will come twice a week and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that, seeing as she’ll be coming to help Michael shower and do exercises, but he has stated more than once that he likes it when his wife does that for him. And I totally understand. I wouldn’t want some stranger coming in to help me shower! So why would he? What to do, what to do…I pray the Lord will smooth this approaching pathway before us and make things straight and clear.

Are you someone who appreciates a little comic relief? I certainly am. Just today I was talking on the phone to my friend Su and we were discussing how important and sometimes difficult it is to always speak words to others that build, help or encourage. I told her how I used to have a printed sign on the kitchen windowsill of our other house, something I got from Ann Voskamp’s blog years ago that said in beautiful lettering, “Only Speak Words That Make Souls Stronger,” and how that is my heart’s desire. And I told her how I have occasional failures with this and how sad and disheartening it is to me. And then our serious conversation took a comic turn when Su said, “I’ll bet there are words you’re saying to Michael that years ago you never dreamed you’d be saying” and I replied without missing a beat, “Yes, like ‘don’t put your cane in the toilet!'” and we cracked up. She knew I meant absolutely no disrespect to Michael and I knew she would understand because she knows and loves him. But she was absolutely right. In 1981 when I married my strong, handsome and hardworking husband and said the words “I do,” I could never have imagined that 30 years later the words I’d be frequently saying to him would be, “Big steps!” and “Don’t put your cane in the toilet.”

Yesterday my son-in-law Jeremy reminded me that even though so much of Michael’s mental and physical abilities are diminishing, the spiritual wisdom, humility and grace he exhibits are decades ahead of other people his age. I was grateful for those words and knew deep in my heart they were truth. I know I would not be bearing the ravages of Parkinson’s with the same patience as Michael does.

We are taking things a day at a time here, sometimes an hour at a time actually. Isn’t that what we’re given anyway? Just the moments that make up the days that comprise the years of our lives? None of us knows what tomorrow will bring, but I do think I can say I know one thing tomorrow will bring — it will bring the faithfulness of God. No matter what happens to any of us, God will be faithful to us.

Psalm 36:5-9 says,

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep.
You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.

How wonderful this passage of Scripture is to me. His love and faithfulness to us reach to the heavens! How many billions and trillions of miles high is that? He is preserving us, and our animals! Edith and Mildred are being preserved by God! We can take refuge in the shadow of His wings, and in the deepest darkness we can see light because He is the Light of the World.

I think I need to meditate on this Psalm today, how about you?

It’s time for me to go make a little lunch for Michael now. The snow continues to fall and the forecast says it will pile up through the night. Then by this Saturday the deep freeze will sweep in and blast us with temperatures that fall to 20 below zero (minus 28 Celsius). I never mind the snow we see in Minnesota, but the older I get the more difficulty I have with the bitter below-zero temps. I guess I should just revel in our 25 degrees above zero winter wonderland today and deal with the plummeting temps when they finally do plummet.

Are there any of you who visit this little blog now and then and have never introduced yourself? I would so love to “meet” you. If you can bring yourself to leave a comment today, I would be blessed to read it and know you are there.

I give a wave to you all, and say a prayer to our Heavenly Father, asking Him to bless, keep, help, and cheer you as you walk out the path in front of you today…

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