I love fall – cozy-cool weather, comfort food, quilts and sweaters, flannel pajamas. Fall is a time of turning inward, spending those quiet evenings at home feeling content and thoughtful.

Fall is also the time to prepare for the winter months ahead.

When I was a single mom, life became more complicated in winter. Cars wouldn’t start. Snow drifted over driveways. Getting up in the morning to go to work or school felt more difficult and treacherous. But over the years, I learned there were a few things I could do to prepare for the approaching winter.

I got my car’s oil changed, rotated the tires, had the battery and fluids checked. I provided the best maintenance I could to ensure my car would start on that first cold morning.

I stocked the car with shovel, blankets, ice melt, a phone charger; just in case it didn’t start somewhere and I had to wait a while for a tow truck to arrive.

I put away toys from the yard and chairs from the patio before they became covered in the first unexpected snowfall of the season.

I stocked my kitchen with storable food: peanut butter and crackers, macaroni and cheese, frozen pizzas and powdered milk; because after skidding home from work through a snow storm, I didn’t want to have to go back out to buy groceries for dinner. I tried to always keep extra food in my home for those nights I didn’t want to venture out into the cold.

Likewise, I stored up soap, shampoo, and laundry detergent, extra boxes of tissues, cough medicine, and children’s fever reducer; because in bitterly cold conditions, I didn’t want to have to drag a sick child to the pharmacy to buy cough medicine.

I tried to buy my daughter’s winter coats, snow pants and boots (in a size too large) on sale the previous spring. Then in the fall, all I had to do was pull winter clothes, hats, and gloves out of storage bins.

I squirreled away entertainment for cozy nights at home: books, magazines, movies, puzzles, coloring books. I reminded myself that winter is the time to enjoy and appreciate spending quiet evenings around the table together.

I love the quiet comforts of fall: early sunsets, time to read and talk, time to consider the present and contemplate the future. Fall is the season to prepare for months of winter rest before the happy new activity of spring.

What do you do to prepare for each season? What can you do this fall to prepare for the coming winter?

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Sometimes life stinks. At the Fair, animal barns flank the entry gates. As we enter the gate, my companion always comments about the smell of the barns, as if complaining will change the situation. Life is often messy and offensive, and complaining doesn’t improve it. If we stay home because we can’t handle the occasional stench, we miss out on the fun things life has to offer.

Look for the sweet stuff. At the Fair, food stands line the walkways. Hungry people stand in line to sample decadent treats like bacon-wrapped corn dogs, deep fried donuts, ice cream, waffles, or cookie dough on a stick. Life presents us with an endless array of blessings that make it delicious.  Sometimes we should accept, be grateful, and enjoy the good things life has to offer.

Be patient. A day at the Fair requires standing in line. While we wait for the bus from the parking lot, for our ticket at the gate, for iced tea or lemonade at the food stand; all we can do is accept where we are and be patient for the line to move. Much of life involves waiting for the right time, the right circumstances, the right conditions to propel us forward. When we are forced to wait, we can use that time to learn what we need and practice patience for the change that will arrive soon.

It is OK to rest. Walking all day through Fair crowds and summer sun can make us tired and irritable. Sometimes we need to buy a lemonade, claim a bench in the shade, and watch the crowds pass for a while. In life, we need to know when to step back, take a break, and regroup while we watch the world go on without us. We will know when it’s time to jump back into the flow and move on again.

Wear good shoes. Fairgoers walk for miles across dusty sidewalks, gravel paths, steep and curving trails. Uncomfortable shoes shorten our endurance and make the journey miserable. We see more of life when we are sure of our goals and the footing that carries us. When we are comfortable with ourselves, we can travel farther and faster than when we try to follow someone else’s tracks.

Watch where you step. All those animals at the Fair can leave a mess on streets and sidewalks. Prudent people are mindful of what lies before them on their path. Wise people take care of themselves and watch the road ahead as they travel throughout life. When we are aware of where our walk is taking us, we can avoid those pitfalls we don’t want to encounter.

Life, like the Fair, is a wonderful mix of danger and risk, fun and opportunity. At the Fair, we have to be cautious and know where our limits of endurance lie. In life, we can test those limits and be grateful for the experiences we share and the lessons we learn.

What have you learned about life this summer? What do you enjoy as you walk your unique path?

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“What is that supposed to be?”

We stopped before a crooked metal staircase that stretched up into nowhere. The plaque on the base read, “Where We Goin’?” and “Please do not climb on sculptures.” For a moment we contemplated the mysterious meaning of the twisted metal. I snapped a picture, then we moved on.

 

This morning the wind blew gently, stirring the leafy branches of the trees and the waving stalks of grass. The breeze blew mist toward us from the fountain in the center of the lake. Birds called overhead, and a blue heron watched us from where he stood in the water.

This morning I walked with my daughter, around and around the lake on a winding, narrow path. We walked through bright and sunny spots, alternated with shadowed and shady areas. We enjoyed the cool morning air, the warming summer sun, the sounds and scents of trees and water. We contemplated the towering metal sculptures that stood beside the lake’s circling path, and we enjoyed the time we set aside to spend together.

I love these leisurely walks with my family or longer wanderings by myself. A walk allows me to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, birds and flowers, trees and grass. Walking reminds me to be grateful for the grace of seasonal changes, sky and sun, wind and earth.

A walk clears my head, awakens my thoughts, clears a way for new ideas and inspiration. Walking allows me time to think, consider my purpose, and wonder where my path is taking me.

A walk with someone I care about offers a time for reconnection and conversation, sharing where we’ve been and what we’ve been doing, or just commenting on the world that turns around us.

“Look, there’s a ground squirrel.”

“Where?”

“He’s gone.”

Walking makes me feel alive and grateful for all the world has to offer. A walk encourages me to commune with the God who created that world and gives us the power and freedom of movement to enjoy it.

This morning, I encourage you to take a walk with someone you love. Find a way to step outside and enjoy the brilliance God has given us to share.

For information on the physical and emotional health benefits of walking, click here or here. For tips on beginning a walking program, check here; or for a plan on losing weight by walking, try here.

How can you enjoy a walk on this summer day? What is your favorite aspect of taking a walk outdoors?

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“Are we there yet?”

Two years ago, my husband planned a romantic weekend getaway at a bed and breakfast in the heavily-forested corner of our state. He found the destination online, made the reservations, GPS’d the route that would take us to our secluded getaway. We packed the car and struck out for a few days of rest and relaxation.

But something went wrong. The GPS route took us on miles of out-of-the-way winding and wandering roads.  We cruised through darkened, mysterious forests and unexplored, dusty trails. We steered the car through steeply twisting paths, over green hills, down dark valleys, and around sharp turns. We passed abandoned, unpainted barns and tilting, empty houses. Gravel roads pinged the car with scattered stones. We drove around the countryside for miles, always following the curvy blue line on the GPS screen, but seemingly getting no closer to our destination.

“Are we there yet?”

Sometimes our lives lead us on long and winding roads and across unbeaten paths. We circle back and loop around through the curves and redirections, all the while worrying about where we are headed and wondering when we will ever arrive.

On that long and wandering drive, I could have complained about the endless delay, the bumpy roads, the flying gravel dust. I could have fretted about the desolation and isolation of our path, the long suspense of waiting to find a functioning bathroom. Instead, what I remember now is the beautiful scenery: the green, shading trees and fields of blooming wildflowers, the grazing deer and soaring birds, the interesting old barns and spooky, empty houses. When we finally arrived at the secluded B&B, we felt more grateful for the welcoming room, the comfortable bed, and the wonderfully functional bath.

We can complain about the unexpected twists and turns our lives may take, worry about frustrating delays, fret about arrival times, argue about the best and most efficient way to proceed. Or we can relax and enjoy the ride, watch the passing scenery, appreciate the beauty of God’s creation that surrounds us. We can choose to be happy and grateful for the time we spend traveling together; and when we arrive at our destination, we will be more aware of the warm and welcoming greeting that awaits us.

What road are you traveling this spring? How do you appreciate and enjoy your journey?

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“Look what I made for you, Mama.”

From the arts and crafts room at the YMCA summer camp, my daughter brought home beaded keychains, pressed flowers, handprint hearts, crayon drawings.

One summer she gave me two little clay pots, each barely big enough to hold a ring or a handful of paperclips on my desk. She had painted them bright green and purple, pink and gold, and fired them in the Y’s art room kiln.

The pots stood slightly lopsided, their sides thick and unevenly shaped by my daughter’s eight-year-old fingers. Despite their lumpy and imperfect appearance, I loved them because she made them.

“We are the clay, and you our potter; And we are the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).

God crafts us carefully, lovingly molding each of us to fulfill his desired purpose. We are turned and shaped by his sure, gentle hands and then fired to give us strength and substance. Some emerge from the kiln hardened, cracked, or broken hearted. Some shatter in the process and are painstakingly glued together again. Every one of us is uniquely designed and brightly colored by our creator.

We may look imperfect, clumsy, or slightly off-kilter; but we are always treasured and perfectly loved because he made us.

Today I pray you remember whose hands formed you to fulfill a special purpose. I pray you always know that you are loved!

Are you feeling imperfect today? Do you know God loves you just as you are?

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While I silently grumbled about having to clean these footprints from my white tile floor, I realized these marks, tracked in from the wintry outdoors, give me a reminder of my many reasons to be grateful.

Footprints on my floor are evidence I have someone else to come home to and share my life with. Muddy floors show my house is lived in and filled with friendship.

Dirty dishes to wash every day show I have enough food to eat, a filled pantry and refrigerator, a nearby grocery store and enough money to buy more when I need to.

Some crusty stuff on the stovetop records a history of delicious food prepared and shared around the dining room table, with people I value and love.

My basket of dirty laundry says I have enough clothing to keep me warm and the freedom to dress and express myself anyway I want.

“Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we will be content”

(1 Timothy 6:6-8).

The bathroom to scrub each week makes me especially thankful for indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, soap, and clean towels.

My life is sometimes messy. My floors go unmopped, and my to-do list is never done. My days get crazy-busy, and my schedule is complicated. My life is sometimes imperfect, but always perfectly amazing.

Today I am grateful for my busy, messy life and the people who are busy and messy with me.

What is your evidence of a life well-lived? How does God remind you to be grateful for your crazy, messy, and amazing home?

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