I love photographing sunsets. Since living on the Gulf Coast of Florida, I have been able to get out and catch a lot beautiful sunsets. I love sunrises as well, but if I chose a favorite to photograph between the two, it would be photographing sunsets.
Today is January 1, 2016. Today isn’t any different than yesterday, yet we celebrate the start of a new year with anticipation, wondering what this next 365 days will bring. Many make resolutions, and set goals for themselves, while others think it’s a useless thing to do. For some it’s an opportunity to start afresh, and focus on making life changes. But really, one day runs into another day, and the cycle of life continues, until that life cycle ends. If we all try to live every day as though it is the first day of a new year, then maybe our lives will have better quality of life.
I have a devotional I cherish titled, “Streams in the Desert”, and every January 1st I read the entry. A portion of it says, “Today, dear friends, we stand upon the verge of the unknown. There lies before us the new year and we are going forth to possess it. Who can tell what we shall find? What new experiences, what changes shall come, what new needs shall arise? ”
None of us knows what lies before us in the days to come. Will there be days of joy and happiness? I hope so! Will there be moments of sorrow and heartache? Discouragements? Sadness? We don’t know. But the secret is to learn to trust the almighty God with every area of our lives, every single day in everything that comes our way. To fully submit ourselves to our Creator, holding nothing back. To learn to walk in the direction He wants us to go, to know His plan for our lives, and know what to do to fulfill it.
I have found that there is NOTHING in this life that can fulfill me like an intimate relationship with my God. Nothing. I feel so sorry for those who never develop that kind of relationship with their Maker. Knowing Jesus Christ, who He is, what he stands for, is the ultimate fulfillment in life.
Therefore, living this kind of life is like living new years day everyday. I am always trying to better myself, set new goals, and focus on improvement. It is consistent throughout the whole year. Why? Because of HIM. Because I know HIM. Therefore, I want to please Him more than anyone in this life. And, knowing that in spite of all my failures and imperfections, He still loves me with unconditional love. And He continues to extend His Mercy no matter how many times I fail. What could be better than all this? Nothing in this life. Nothing. Let’s live every day as though it is a New Year’s Day. Let’s live it for Him.
I walked by that tree in the springtime, when it was bursting forth with tiny buds, ready to break open at any time. Then I watched as the Spring rains came, feeding its roots as the buds gently began to open, displaying its leaves. Nurtured by sunshine, day by day, the tree flourished and grew.
By summer, it was in full display with freshly unfolded emerald-green leaves swaying back and forth, glistening with the sunshine’s warmth. Through the rainy, stormy days it stood strong, as the pressing winds beat against its boughs. Even the summer heat did not weaken this majestic form, as it continued to grow.
But then, as one season transforms into another, more changes became visible. The leaves began to display a mix of colors. Bright yellow, vibrant orange, and rusty-red, with touches of brown in place of green. Yes, another season had arrived. Fall time, also called Autumn, which happens to be the favorite season of many here in the Midwest, transforms into a time of glorious splendor and beauty. God the Creator, takes His palette of colors, and with His brush of broad strokes, paints Himself a masterpiece for all to see. What breathtaking beauty and splendor!
But in time, as the air changes, with colder gusts of winds that start whipping the leaves around into spiral swirls, they break loose from their secure place, floating down to the hard, cold, ground. Once displayed in glorious wonder – they now lay still, turning brittle and brown, only to be trampled upon. Winter has arrived.
This once flourishing tree, with vibrant green leaves that evolved into colors of splendor, again has a change in appearance. The branches turn gray and brittle, and would snap easily in the harsh, cold wind. It looks lonely and barren. And as the brutal winter winds continue to beat against the tree, one would wonder, ‘how could this tree survive until Spring?’
Drastic transformation in just a few months time. But somehow, when the harsh winter has ended, the cycle begins all over again. And that tree that looked hopelessly barren, begins to take on another form again. The tree, that seemed to be in its dormant stage of life, never stopped growing. Only to the human eye during winter season did it look lifeless.
But God had His eye upon that tree all the time. Through the Spring, He nourished it with gentle sun and rain, and watered its roots enough to endure the brutal heat of Summer. Through the harsh, brutally cold season, covered in ice and snow, He took it through Winter, preparing it once again for a brand new Spring. And so the cycle goes.
Isn’t that how our lives are at times? In Ecclesiastes the third chapter, we read that for everything under the heaven there is a time and purpose. A time – a season. A purpose – a reason. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted. A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to mourn and a time to dance.
Unfortunately, there are seasons that you and I would rather never, ever go through. We all want to laugh our way through life, and never have moments of sadness. Of course we do! We all want to be happy all the time. And we are thankful for those seasons of happiness and prosperity. But life isn’t always going to be that way. There will also be seasons of struggle, discouragement, and heartache. Just as the winter tree looked lonely and barren without its beautiful display of colored leaves, you and I will have our times of loneliness, and moments of emptiness and despair.
But remember – you are passing through the Season.
When we fully trust God through every season of our lives, He will comfort us in sorrow and grief, fill us with joy when we need it, and strengthen us as we grow spiritually day by day, regardless of what season we happen to be in at the time.
Look to Him. He is the Creator of all things. He is the Author and Finisher of not just our faith, but of all the seasons that we walk through in this life.
I believe that nothing we go through is ever wasted in God. There are times it just doesn’t make sense to us, and we question why. But there is a purpose, whether it is to increase our faith and teach us to trust Him, reveal something to us about ourselves that we need to know or see, or just simply to show us His glory and greatness – so we can minister and be a witness to others.
Just as God takes the barren winter tree, and majestically transforms it once again in the season of springtime, He can do the same for you and me, as we rest in Him with His peace and comfort, trusting Him through all the seasons of our lives.
Vizcaya Museum, Miami Florida
I had wanted to visit this museum for at least 15 – 16 years. I lived in South Florida for eight years and was told that Vizcaya was a beautiful place to visit, but like so many Floridians who live there, did not get around to making a visit. I no longer live there, but every time I visit my son who does live there, I try to plan at least one sight seeing venture, so this last time I visited Vizcaya in Miami, to do what I love to do – take photographs. Unfortunately, no photographs can be taken inside the mansion. Too bad, because of the amazing furnishings of tapestry, marble, numerous hand carved statues, and imported fabrics and custom made furniture that one rarely sees anymore.
Following is some information about Vizcaya, and you can visit the website for more information if interested in touring at www.vizcayamuseumandgardens.org.
International Harvester Vice President James Deering was not unusual in building a Florida winter home in the early 1900s. Like many “snowbirds” today, he was attracted to the warm weather and hoped it would improve his health. Deering’s choice of Miami—rather than the more established Palm Beach—was, however, uncommon and based in part on the fact that his father had already built a house in Coconut Grove.
Deering was also unusual among his wealthy peers in hiring not an established, architecture firm but, instead, three young and relatively inexperienced men to design his estate: Paul Chalfin provided artistic oversight, Francis Burrall Hoffman, Jr. brought professional knowledge of architecture, and Diego Suarez provided landscape architecture expertise. Together these men created a unique subtropical estate.
The planning and construction of Vizcaya lasted over a decade, from 1910 to 1922. Deering modeled his estate after a centuries’-old Italian country villa. This involved the large-scale purchase of European antiques and the design of buildings and landscapes to accommodate them. At the same time, Deering a modern businessman, incorporated twentieth-century building methods and technologies at Vizcaya, and established agricultural facilities relevant to his background as a manufacturer of farm equipment.
Deering planned the estate slightly south of Miami’s historic (and current) downtown business district. Vizcaya originally consisted of 180 acres. The design included a reconfiguration of roads to create the strip of South Miami Avenue that bisects the estate. Deering would build the large Main House and the expansive gardens on the east, or waterfront side, of the property, while reserving the western portion for the Village to house staff, grow crops, keep animals and otherwise support his lifestyle.
The past few weeks I thought of these Biblical scriptures with deep thought. And, as thoughts go, one leads to another, and another, going deeper in perception, and sometimes imagination. It seems only fitting that I would write this on Mother’s Day.
“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother…When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son. Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother. And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” John 19:25-27
I pictured in my mind one of the most horrific scenes known to mankind: Jesus hanging on a rugged, blood stained cross; his body covered with dirt, sweat, and blood, with open gaping wounds across his beaten back. At the foot of the cross gazing up at this painfully excruciating sight, was Mary, his mother. I tried to imagine the grief this woman must have been experiencing at that time. I am a mother. I understand the emotions that run through a mother’s mind, heart, and spirit when her child is hurting. But I have never experienced Mary’s type of grief. I have never seen my child nailed to a cross left to die.
Then I thought of a mother’s travail. A mother’s travail, is there anything like it? Oh, how Mary must have travailed through her grief and agonizing pain, with feelings of helplessness, only wishing that she could take her son’s place on the cross. Any mother who loves her child never wants to see that child suffer, and would sacrifice herself to be able to remove her child’s suffering.
I then thought of Hannah. Hannah also travailed, yet she was without child. She was barren, and begged and pleaded with God to make her womb fruitful, and bless her with a son. She prayed with such desperation of mind and spirit that she could no longer speak. She emptied herself before God, and with determination, refused to give up until God granted her desire. She prevailed, and was blessed with a son. She became a mother.
Then I thought of Zion. The church. The spiritual mother. “For I have heard a voice as of a woman in travail, and the anguish as of her that bringeth forth her first-born child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, that bewaileth herself, that spreadeth forth her hands, saying, Woe is me now!” Jer. 4:31. “Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.” Isa. 66:8
What is travail? Webster’s definition: 1) agony, torment, labor 2) work especially of a painful or laborious nature 3) physical or mental exertion, task, effort
How many ever pray with travail? How many labor in prayer as a woman labors in giving birth to a child? For those of us who have labored in childbirth, we know what this means. The agony and pain accompanied with moaning, and often tears, and extreme physical exhaustion. The anticipation of birthing something miraculous. Have you ever prayed that way?
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found in the book of Romans, chapter eight verses 26 and 27:
“Likewise the Spirit (indwelling Spirit of God) also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” The Spirit of God prays through us exactly what His will is. Many things are “birthed” through travail and intercessory prayer. When we pray like this, the miraculous happens. People are healed, broken marriages are mended, families are restored, the chains of drug and alcohol addiction are broken, and people become hungry for God.
Where are the Intercessors? Where are the ones who are willing to labor in the Spirit and allow God to move in miraculous ways? Mother must not be barren! Mother (Zion) must travail and bring forth her children! There is nothing quite like the travail of Mother. It’s the kind of prayer that will bring forth the miraculous!
I have nothing left to give. I have given and given and given – I am spent – of my mind, my strength and my emotions. Ever been there? Weariness has taken over and you want to find that place of seclusion and isolation from everyone. It happens. We get there. At times we find ourselves in that vulnerable place through life’s journey. We don’t like that place, and we really don’t want to be there, but at the time it seems to be a sanctuary to hide ourselves from it all. It’s a cave. Elijah found himself in a cave.
While journeying into the wilderness, Elijah came to a juniper tree. His request was that he might die. Bone weary and despondent he fell asleep. But God was watching. God is always watching. And in times of loneliness and despair is when God desires to send strength and direction, if we will be sensitive to His voice and leading.
But Elijah saw the cave and lodged there, determined not to budge. Sometimes our cave of despondency and isolation seems to be our only destination. But God, through His still small voice will ask us this question, “What doest thou here?” He asked Elijah that question twice.
When a man or woman loses heart they lose everything. To keep one’s heart in the midst of life’s stream, and to maintain an undiscourageable front in the face of difficulties is not an achievement that springs from anything that is produced in a laboratory, or that logic can explain. It is an achievement of and by Faith.
On life’s journey there is a place and time to rest. The body can only go so long without rejuvenation and restoration. God knows that. He knows what it is to be weary because He experienced it when He walked the earth. But just as importantly as physical rest from our labors, is rejuvenation of the spirit. That is where God comes in, because He is the one who can strengthen and revive the human spirit.
From under the juniper tree, while listening to his own defeated wail, to the isolated cave of despair, Elijah is called into an audience with the King of Kings. Presenting before Elijah, a marvelous display of fire, an earthquake that shook the cave he was dwelling in, and forceful winds that could have swept him off the earth, God got Elijah’s attention. But what he needed was found in the still, small voice of God. Not in the display of his God’s creation – but in the Voice of his Creator. That is what brought Elijah out from his cave, with a renewed vision and desire to continue his journey.
God refused him his request to die; rested him from service; reminded him that he was still needed; and then returned him to his work. Elijah thought his work was done, and that life had left him in the shadows, but God had other things in store. God said, “I am commissioning you to go forth and anoint kings and prophets, and direct you on your journey with Me.” It’s not over weary one. You may be in your cave now, but listen for His Voice, and allow God to revive your spirit with a new sense of hope, direction and purpose. And then go on about the Father’s business!
There are moments in time so refreshing, so exhilarating to the human spirit, we want them to stay with us forever, to never go away. I experienced this many times while touring through Europe. We hear the words, “capture the moment,” or “seize the moment,” but we are so busy on life’s pathway that we may hear it, yet not do it.
I took over 2,000 pictures on my European trip, trying to “capture the moment,” in real-time. I inhaled the experience and mentally recorded it, capturing vivid images in my mind, hoping to never let them go. I wanted each moment to stay with me forever. The sounds, the fragrance in the air, the laughter, the languages with the accents, the customs, the cultures, the beauty of the landscapes, the majestic snow-capped mountains, the waters that sparkled like diamonds; exploring everything in my pathway, because I knew that those moments in time would be gone, never to quite experience them again, exactly the same way.
Then, there are the moments in time we wish to forget, as though they never happened. The moments of pain while watching someone close to us slowly die. The heartache of watching a loved one’s health decline, day by day, knowing it’s just a matter of time, and they will no longer be with us. The moments in time when someone close to us betrays us, turning their back and walking away. The moments of regret, because we think we should have done things differently. Those are the moments in time we wish to erase.
But we can use each and every moment that has shaped our lives, and developed who we are; as the caterpillar evolves from the ugly dark cocoon into a beautiful butterfly, we too, can do the same. My mother has a saying, “You have to take the bitter with the sweet.” It’s what we do with what we’ve been dealt in life that makes those moments in time either valuable, as a precious jewel, or wasted to be tossed aside with no value.
The clock keeps ticking away. Time waits for no man, or woman, or child. But whether we are standing still, looking forward, or looking back on our journey’s pathway, one thing we can control is what we choose to do with each moment God has given us. Let us seize each moment, and live life to its fullest, because today will never come again.
Following is an excerpt from my devotional book, “Springs in the Valley” paraphrased by me: “If thou hadst been here.” John 11:21
“If only my circumstances and my environment were altered…If only So and So was not trying to live with…If only I had the opportunities, the advantages that other people have…If only that insurmountable difficulty, that sorrow, that trouble, could be removed out of my life; then how different things would be! And how different I would be!”
A certain gentleman had a garden which might have been very beautiful had it not been disfigured by an immense boulder which reached under the soil. He tried to blast it out with dynamite, but to no avail would it budge. Being very self-willed, he tried one method after another, but each attempt to move it, failed.
A friend of his, who not only had common sense but used it, perceived the hopelessness of trying to move the boulder, so he chose to use the circumstance to transform the boulder. He planted ferns, vines, and beautiful flowers around it. Visitors would stop by and comment about the unsurpassed beauty of the rock and the floral growth around it, which became a flourishing garden. That most unsightly boulder that was too deep to be moved, became the most valuable asset in the man’s garden, when dealt with by one who knew how to turn its defects into a thing of beauty and admiration.
Remember: God often plants His flowers among rough rocks! And every challenge placed in our pathway can become an opportunity to transform the ugly into the beautiful. It’s our choice to do what we can, with what we have.
It was our last day of the most extraordinary journey through Europe. A lot of emotions began to surface as I thought back on the many places I had been the previous two weeks. When we left Germany to tour through six more countries, it was mid September, yet all the trees were still quite green. As we headed back to Germany to complete our tour, I noticed a significant change in foliage. Fall colors were springing up as you will see in these videos. The first video takes place as we travel through the mountains toward Rudesheim. That day we boarded a boat to cruise the picturesque Rhine River. The day was warm, sunny, and splendid. It was the perfect way to end a fabulous tour.
In this video we are arriving to Rudesheim for the final stop on tour. Notice the fall colored leaves on the trees.
In the video below you will see Emma, our tour director relaxing with her feet propped up on the railing. The boat ride was so relaxing.