The Author of Change

Some exciting news for the New Year! I will be contributing on a regular basis to the website Looking to God. If you enjoy reading encouraging devotional content that turns the eyes Heavenward, check out this page and subscribe! Below is a paragraph of my first article and a link to the full devotional.

At the start of a new year, nothing is more evident than the almost universal hunger for change. Out goes the old year and in comes the new, and the clean slate ahead acts as a sort of catalyst for making adjustments and setting fresh, exciting goals and kicking old habits and establishing new ones. And then that first week goes by, maybe three or four, and we slip back into all our old ways. Our new habits prove not to be habits after all, and we settle back into the comfort of normalcy …

The Author of Change

I hope everyone has had a blessed beginning to their New Year and are excited to see what God has in store for 2023. We serve a faithful God!

Recipes | Cranberry Juice

Yesterday was cranberry juice canning day! We wanted to get our two freezers combined into one, and thanks to Black Hills Bulk Foods I had 22 twelve-ounce bags of cranberries in the freezer, waiting to be juiced. Now I’m down to 11 bags with 6 gallons of canned juice sparkling on my kitchen counter. Beautiful!

There is a little bit of a story behind this, actually. Ever since leaving the fire department at the end of February 2022, I have struggled terribly with sleep. Sleep issues are common in that line of work. I hoped it would get better as time went on and it just didn’t. After Brad and I got married, I could work from dawn until dusk, physical work, working in the heat, and by all reasonable estimations I should have been exhausted. Yet I’d lay awake in bed for literally hours. I struggled with restless leg issues as well. I couldn’t take melatonin, since I would have these weird, lucid dreams, so I tried valerian and Benadryl, occasionally with a small glass of wine. I tried magnesium for my legs, with marginal results. Basically, nothing helped.

On a whim back in November, unrelated to my sleep issues, I got some fresh cranberries at Sam’s and made up a batch of juice, and enjoyed adding a quarter to a half cup of it to a glass of water to drink, hot or cold. After a week of doing this, it occurred to me that I had slept well every night, and the only thing I had changed was that I was drinking cranberry juice. Long story short, I did a little research and found out that cranberries are a natural source of melatonin. Over the last 6 weeks, since adding cranberry to my diet, I have had the best sleep I have had since February.

I used a recipe from the website Practical Self Reliance. She shares a method of canning cranberries and sugar in water, and a method of canning extracted juice. I chose the latter method.

This is an unsweetened cranberry juice, although sugar can be added if preferred. It takes roughly 4 12-ounce bags to get a full 7-quart canner of jars.

The basic method is as follows:

1. Simmer approximately 3 pounds cranberries in approximately 4 quarts water. Simmer until the berries have popped, about 10 minutes, and lightly mash them. Strain off the juice, pouring everything through a cheesecloth-lined colander.

2. Add cooked berries back to pot with approximately 2 quarts of water. Again let it simmer for about 5 minutes and mash the berries. Drain off the juice.

3. Add cooked berries back to pot with approximately 1 quart of water. Simmer for about 5 minutes and mash the berries, and drain off juice for the last time. Discard the pulp. It is pretty flavorless at this point, but my chickens loved it, especially after it had sat for a couple days and fermented a little…

4. Pour hot juice into quart jars with 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rims and seal jars hand tight. Process for 10 minutes in a water bath canner – adjust the time for altitude.

For each of the rounds of juice extraction, I used a little extra water just to make sure I’d end up with a full 7 quarts. If you’ve done much canning, you know the frustration of being a cup short of having a full canner of jars!

I love adding the juice to cold water for a refreshing drink or hot water for a delicious tea in the evening. And I have loved the sleep I have gotten since I started adding cranberry to my diet on a daily basis! Enjoy!

Seeing Triple

I’ve shared a number of pictures of Amelia and Madeline (Mia and Maddy, as I call them for short), and in case anyone was just dying of curiosity for the next chapter in their story, I felt I should give an update.

Mia and Maddy have settled in as best friends with Polly the Kitten, and their little cohort is known affectionately as Polly and Pals. They have survived this cold snap just fine using the buddy heat method and greet me at the door every morning, eager for their breakfast.

Yesterday morning I went out to do chores and fed the cats as usual on the deck. Polly and Pals as well as my old cats, Ember and Cinders, generally get in on this meal. I had to pop back inside for a moment to get hot water and the fermented mash for my chickens and as I walked past the cats, I did a double take. I looked hard and then looked again. There was an extra cat. No, there couldn’t be. Yep, it was. It was Mia and Maddy’s feral big brother.

I quick grabbed my phone and tried to call my mother-in-law, and when she didn’t answer I called my father-in-law. “Laura!” came the standard greeting from the other end.

“Dave! Does Starla know where her white cat is?”

“No, she doesn’t.”

“Well, I do! He’s eating breakfast with my cats! I thought I was seeing triple.”

Turns out they hadn’t seen him in a few days, since before the storm blew in at the beginning of this week. Either he hitched a ride under or in a vehicle from their house to ours, or the crazy thing walked six miles through bitter cold coyote territory to our end of the ranch. Wild.

Advent | The Joy Candle

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Joy. It is impossible to read the Christmas story without being struck by the response to the birth of the long-awaited Messiah. He was looked forward to with joy. He was awaited with joy. And for many, he was received with joy. The third candle of Advent, pale pink, is the Joy Candle.

Built right into the fabric of our culture is this pursuit of happiness, this reckless chasing after pleasant emotions, and it might be that Christmastime is the biggest evidence of that in our culture. The December full of parties and gift giving and entertainment and good food and vacation and this, that, and the other thing, all with the excuse of “celebrating Christmas,” or maybe just celebrating “the holidays” in general.

People tend to conflate joy and happiness, and also to lean on happiness (and so in their minds, joy) as the end result, as the thing to be pursued. But the sad fact of the matter is, happiness is fleeting in this life. If we make that our goal in life, we are going to fail, and fail miserably. We may be able to conjure up happiness that lasts for days or weeks or even a year, but something will happen that will shatter that sense of happiness, and then what?

For Believers, we need to have a more robust understanding of this all-too-misunderstood word. We need to understand that joy, Biblical joy, isn’t the flat and fleeting emotion of mere happiness, but it also isn’t a forced smile when the world is falling apart around us. Joy isn’t conjuring up fluffy, giddy emotions in the face of horror. While there is nothing innately wrong with happiness, happiness is circumstantial, an emotional response to something, whereas joy is a heart-level contentment and peace and gladness and so much more. It is unrelated to circumstances.

For the Believer, it also is worth stating, joy shouldn’t be the goal. If joy becomes the aim, joy will be ever evasive. The goal is Christ. The goal is the pursuit of righteousness and holiness. The old catechisms nailed this from the outset of their questioning: “What is the chief end of man?” they ask. “To glorify God and to love Him forever,” is the reply.

For the Christian, joy comes when we are viewing God, ourselves, and our life correctly. “Count it all joy, my brothers,” James writes, “when you meet trials of various kinds. For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (James 1:2-3) Joy is independent of and contrary to circumstance. Joy happens in the hearts of those who can look beyond the painful circumstances they are in, and see the expected result. Steadfastness. Greater faith. Ultimately, perfect fellowship in Heaven. A joyful heart is a hopeful heart. And a hopeful heart is a joyful one.

Biblically, we see joy as a response to God, to His blessings, and to His salvation in our lives, and we see it paired again and again with thanksgiving to and worship of God. We see joy as a gift, given by God to those He loves. The Psalmist credits the LORD with the joy in his heart: “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” (Ps. 4:7) And we also see joy as a fruit, a natural result of faith. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23)

But I think there are two facets we fail to really understand.

First, that joy, while it is a gift and a fruit and a natural response, is also a command. Throughout Scripture, God’s people aren’t asked or recommended to rejoice. They are commanded to do so!

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! (Phil. 4:4)

Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name! (Ps. 97:12)

Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Ps. 32:11)

“You shall rejoice. You shall rejoice. You shall rejoice!” echoes through the Old Testament Law.

The command to rejoice is similar in tone to the command to give thanks, sometimes happening simultaneously, but both overflowing with a sense of overflowing wonder and awe and exuberance: “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good and His steadfast love endures forever!” is a refrain that occurs numerous times in Scripture and should be the refrain of the Believing heart.

A joyful heart is a thankful heart. And a thankful heart is a joyful one.

The second facet I believe we miss is that while it is a gift, a fruit, a response, and a command, it is a decision. Sure, there are times in our life when the joy just comes naturally. There are times when we are joyful and the only reason we can give is that God put that joy in our hearts and it is just overflowing. But more often than not, in my experience, we aren’t just bubbling over with joy we can’t explain. I love this passage from Habakkuk:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places. (Hab. 3:17-19)

I can just hear him saying, “I will. I will. I will rejoice. I will take joy. Though everything around me should turn to dust and ashes, I will rejoice. God is good.” This is a decision we make with intention, starting when life is going well, but to the end that we are tuned to rejoice so when life gets hard, as it will. “Come thou fount of every blessing,” the song goes, “tune my heart to sing thy grace.” We make a decision to rejoice, and over time we can tune our hearts to a song of rejoicing that holds its sweetness even in the midst of the worst of circumstances.

But how? How do we do that? How do we listen to the command to rejoice and then truly rejoice? And why do we fail?

All too often when we fail to accept the gift of joy, or fail to produce the fruit of joy, when we fail to respond with joy to our Heavenly Father, and fail to accept His gift of joyfulness…it is specifically because we are failing to lift our eyes above our petty circumstances, failing to see beyond our own fickle emotions, failing to look above these circumstances that are so temporary to something sure and certain. We let our gaze be pulled out of Heaven’s glory and into the mire and muck of this world that can be by turns so ugly and so beautiful, and we fail to count it all as filthy rags in comparison with beholding Christ the King in His beauty.

Whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, whatever is commendable and excellent, let your mind dwell on THOSE things! (Phil. 4:8) Christ is true! He is honorable and right and pure and lovely! He is excellent and commendable! We must set our minds on Heavenly things, not earthly (Col. 3:2), “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2)

Because joy isn’t about circumstances. It isn’t about persuading ourselves to feel happy. It is about a Person. It is about that king, humble, bringing salvation, the one who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey’s foal. It is about that king, not yet born, whom Mary was carrying when she rode the donkey to Bethlehem and there gave birth in a stable. It is about answers to prophesy and longing hearts restored, it is about God choosing to redeem a broken world for His glory. It is about that God, who humbled Himself to be born our Savior. It is about that Savior, that Baby, that angels proclaimed and shepherds rejoiced to see, whom Magi worshipped with kingly gifts, rejoicing that they had found Him. It is about receiving a gift, and responding in praise and thanksgiving, and growing in our contentment and confidence in our King. It is about obedience, it is about choosing to wake up every morning with these words on our lips: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Ps. 118:24)

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zech 9:9)

So look to Jesus, friends. If your heart is heavy, look to Jesus. If your soul needs comforting, look to Jesus. If joy seems fleeting, look to Jesus. The same King who numbers the stars and knows their names is the same who heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3-4) He is the same King who taught that those who mourn are blessed, because they will be comforted. (Matt. 5:4) And as we approach Christmas Day, look to the Child in the manger. Marvel with the shepherds. Rejoice with the Magi. And then look forward confidently to a Second Advent, when

the ransomed of the Lord shall return
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain gladness and joy,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)

Advent | The Peace Candle

The Advent season is coming to a close next week, but I still wanted to share some thoughts I’ve been musing on the last couple of weeks. Two Sundays ago, we lit the second purple candle, the Peace Candle. What a word for this year. What a desperate need. What a hunger. People long for peace. I long for peace.

Internal, personal peace.

Relational peace.

Peace within my family.

My community.

My state.

My country.

The world.

So much of the brokenness I see around me can be described as a lack of peace. People experience brokenness in their relationships and instead of mending the relationships they shut people out. People turn to “spirituality,” or “mindfulness,” or “self-care” for some sort of peace. People turn to drugs and alcohol. People turn to disordered sexual relationships. Countries try to legislate peace by quenching dissenting voices. Churches try to have peace with the world by compromising on God’s standards. Wars are fought in an effort to find some sort of peace internationally. Treaties are made and broken. Relationships are cut off and destroyed. Where is the peace we so desperately want and need? And why can’t people find it?

Jeremiah 6:13-15 reads:

“For from the least to the greatest of them,
    everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
    everyone deals falsely.
They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
    saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
    when there is no peace.
Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
    No, they were not at all ashamed;
    they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
    at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,”
says the Lord.

This lack of peace is thousands of years in the making. When Adam and Eve sinned, when they listened to the lies of Satan and took forbidden fruit in the Garden, spitting in the face of God, their Creator, Master, and Friend, they ushered sin and unrest into this world. Their peace with God was destroyed. Their peace with one another was destroyed. The most perfect marriage of all became fraught with blame-shifting, anger, and unrest. How they would have longed for peace. And ever since then, we as the human race have experienced the peace-killing effects of sin, both our own sin and the sin of others.

This passage in James sums it up succintly:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:1-4)

We cannot have peace if we are at enmity with God. Period. And without peace with God, we won’t have peace within our own hearts. And enmity with God can look as unremarkable as unrepentant sins in our lives or as horrifying as mass-murder. Sin, our own sin regardless how “big” we deem it, causes our lack of peace.

Ultimately, the peace we need is peace with our Creator.

People look at our world and the chaos contained in it and imagine that we can just pull ourselves together to muster up peace, or that we can legislate it, or evolve into it. But we are so broken, we don’t just need an attitude adjustment. We need a radical change in our very nature. The peace that we need is a peace that can only come through the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts, regenerating, restoring, and renewing.

Over and over in the New Testament, we see peace as a work of the Holy Spirit, as a fruit of faith in our lives, and we see it paired with love, with joy and thanksgiving, with a “putting on” of righteousness and a “putting off” of those things which displease God. Look at the following passages:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:16-18)

I love that passage. “A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” What a beautiful picture! Righteousness and peace being sown and harvested.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15)

Through Jesus’s redeeming life and death, we can experience peace with God, and so we can, through God’s work in our hearts, experience peace in this life. As Believers, we are called to peace, to live peacefully with one another, to love one another and care for one another, in a beautiful earthly picture pointing forward to a permanent, perfect peace.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
    and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
    and a little child shall lead them.
 The cow and the bear shall graze;
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
    and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
 They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

This passage in Isaiah 11 looks ahead to Jesus’s second coming, to His second Advent, and the picture it paints is one of the glorious, perfect harmony of Eden, perfect, unblemished peace, before Adam and Eve destroyed the peace that God had created. If you are feeling the effects of your sin this season, look to Jesus, who alone is able to reconcile you to your Heavenly Father. If you are feeling the effects of relational strains, look to Jesus, who perfectly bore and forgave the sins of those around Him. If you are fearful of the future, look to Jesus, who is your Friend and Brother and will not lose any of His own. If you are despondent at the sin of this country and this world, rest in Jesus, who will be the King we long for, upon Whose shoulders the government one day will perfectly rest. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts as we look forward to Christmas, and look a little further to a second Advent. For behold, He is coming soon!

Battened Down

All of South Dakota has been gearing up for a major snow event, since the meteorologists first started talking about the potential a week ago.

For ranchers in drought-stricken parts of the state, including here, predictions of moisture can be pretty disheartening, since the outcome seems to always be less than hoped. We watched as this storm seemed to drift further south and tried not to get our hopes up for any significant moisture, but we were still a little disappointed when at 3am there was little to no snow yet.

Well, it has blown in, and we are just trusting God for His provision of the needed moisture over this winter, and praying for safety as the temps plummet and the wind kicks up. There isn’t much snow yet and it seems to have let up, but this is supposed to be a multi day snowstorm, so it should keep coming.

We have plenty of water in case of power outages, have oil in the lanterns, and are thankful for a working generator. Brad brought the calves closer yesterday and into the timber, and now the order of the day is just keeping critters fed and watered.

My usual entourage of cats had no interest in chicken chores this morning, and stayed snug in their cat house, looking pretty miffed. Except for Polly. She darted inside and since she’s getting a little daily doctoring (and will keep me company while I work on some projects inside…) I didn’t feel like stripping down to go catch her. And she really is good company, even if rather obnoxious.

The chickens needed a fair amount of coaxing and a makeshift windbreak before they’d set foot outside. My footsteps had already drifted in when I trudged back up the hill to the house.

But those cold, blustery, blizzardy days make for the perfect opportunity for finishing some Christmas presents, doing some mending, photo editing, a couple online webinars tomorrow, and getting a start on my Christmas cookie baking.

There’s always something!

And so we’re battened down.