Wednesday, December 26, 2012

He's coming back! - Christmas Story 7

© Karen Kyle Ericson, all rights reserved.

The story doesn't end in the manger, it is the beginning.  We have faced many struggles this year in the US, and around the world.  The good news is Jesus is coming back for those who believe in Him.  We don't know the exact day or time.  But He will be back : )  

Jesus said there'd be days like this.  He also said that no one knows when He's coming.

Matt 24:6-7
6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.

Matt 24:36
36 "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only."

The Apostle Paul wrote about the second coming of Jesus in 1 Thessalonians.  You can read more about it in Matthew 24 (some of my blog posts are very long so I don't want to copy the whole chapter).
1 Thessalonians 4:16-5:10
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

5:1 But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. 2 For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 For when they say, "Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. 5 You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. 8 But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.
NKJV

Jeremy Camp has put together a great song, There will be a Day (link).

If you have never accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, I've written how here (link).  Let me know if you do, so I can pray for you.

Still praying for the families in CT, and those along the shore who lost their homes.



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas is coming

I am very happy to see Christmas coming.  The USA and nations around the world have had a really tough time this year.  Eesh blazing fires in the west, Superstorm Sandy, a theatre shooting, rogue tornadoes in the central US.  Flooding, drought, storms, economic disaster and a school shooting.  We still don't know the time when Jesus is coming back, but sometimes today seems like a good day.

I approached Thanksgiving with those devastated by Sandy on my heart.  Now as we approach Christmas, I can't help but think of the parents who bought Christmas gifts for children who won't be there this year in CT.  Little brothers and sisters who just can't understand.  I don't understand.  Sometimes the holidays are very difficult.  Our country mourns and we will be ever so much more grateful for our families.  Someone once said, "Life is fragile, handle with prayer."

My prayer
Dear Heavenly Father I lift up the families of those who were shot at Sandy Hook.  I pray You will protect them and comfort them.  They will need Your Holy Spirit's counsel and wisdom so much in this.  Let the angels bring hope and peace to the community.  I pray You will supply their every need.  Bless all those across our country who have mourned this year.  I pray for Your mercy and grace on our land.  Forgive us where we have failed.  Help us to grow stronger in the future.  May You bless America again.  Thank You for the many blessings we have received and didn't realize.
In Jesus Name, Amen

It's interesting.  Jesus was born in a terrible time.  Romans had conquered Israel.  Herod was considered the King of the Jews, but he had limited authority.  An unforgiving religious sect, the Pharisees, had taken charge of the Temple.  After Jesus' birth, Herod sent soldiers to kill all the babies hoping to keep Him from becoming King.  I don't usually like to even think about this part of the story.  It was a slaughter.  Mary and Joseph obeyed God's command to go to Egypt and Jesus was saved.  

Christmas is when we celebrate the day God became a baby out of His amazing love.  He knew all to well what man was capable of, yet He loved us so much it was worth it.   I see the lights on the tree and remember Jesus is the light that has come into our darkness.  We have an angel on top and I remember the angels rejoicing and celebrating His birth.   I will celebrate too.  I will get my husband's Christmas present today.  He's driving me nuts!  And I will hug him a little tighter this year.  We all need a break from this year's tragedies.  

These two verses kept coming to mind.  So I'm thinking I better share them.


But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matt 6:33

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair;  persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed- always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  2 Cor 4:8-11

I shed a few tears writing this, not an easy post.  Tomorrow I will start reposting the Christmas story.  I love reading it over and over again.  I hope it will bless you as well.

Think I'll light a candle for those in CT and the shore this year during Christmas, so I remember to pray for them.  We aren't wealthy, but I can pray.  Feel free to join me if you like, share a prayer or comment.

"All the darkness in the world can not extinguish the light of one candle."  Anonymous

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Money & Taxes... sigh

"Jesus provided tax money for Peter through a fish"
Prismacolor Markers on Marker Paper

© Karen Kyle Ericson, all rights reserved.
First the good news : )  I heard on the News that people along the New Jersey and New York shores are rebuilding their homes now.  Home Depot (major hardware store) is hiring many new employees and contractors are eagerly finding work.  Construction has been hit hard in the last few years.  Thanks be to God!

This is probably my least favorite thing to think about of all.  It's been in the news since our President was re-elected.  Just the word "taxes" hits a nerve for me.  You see New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the United States.  Our township's taxes are higher than our mortgage payments.  We live in a townhouse development with about 20 feet of land.  Something doesn't make sense here.  The majority of the money goes to the schools.  Are they passing out laptops?  Can the kids even read when they graduate?  Where's the accountability?  There are over 2 million people in our county...  Oy!  That's a lot of tax money.

Our taxes in the USA were changed 4 years ago.  The middle class was to take the bulk of the taxes while the rich created new jobs.  Evidently, the new jobs didn't happen.  Several people had to leave NJ, because of the property taxes and unemployment.  You could drive down the streets and see "For Sale" signs on about a third of the homes.

To top it all off, the President wants more money to spend...  Is there any sanity left?  Yes there is.  It's in the Bible.  God has given us some guidelines to help us through this crazy life on earth.  I need to read through them every once in awhile just to find some solid ground.

These verses remind me to never let money become the most important thing in my life.  Focus on the Lord, my work, the needs of others, and the rest falls into place.


I love this story.  Ok, I illustrated it above.
25 When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?”
26 “From others,” Peter answered.
“Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”
Matthew 17:25-26
Jesus' attitude toward taxes is cool.  He cares more for the tax collectors than the money.  Pretty typical of Him to always care more about people, than their dollar value.



Then Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."
Mark 12:7
It's a bit sticky with this verse because we live in a democracy where we are asked to speak our minds.  My thoughts go to, "Yeah but..."  I have to ask myself, "What is God's?"  My heart, my soul, the earth, everything in it.  He doesn't control our money that is man made.  Even the thought of a world bank is frightening to me, the nations are so different.  One falls all the nations fall, doesn't sound like a good plan to me.  God wants me to give to Him what is His, and let the rest go.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.
1 Thess. 4:11
Isn't this a great verse?  Stay out of the trouble that doesn't have eternal value.  I really like the part "working with your hands."  I dreamed of doing that for years while I was in business.  Yet, our country does provide a forum for us to communicate with our Representatives.  Perhaps being polite and factual is the right way to go.  We sometimes get so caught up in politics, we forget to look after the needs of those in government.  Prayer is a very powerful gift that God has given us.  We must remember to pray humbly and accept that God knows how to fix things.  Even lawmakers need His love.

Here's "A Day to Pray (link)" sign up sheet for Sunday, January 20, 2013.  This was put together by Governor Mike Huckabee, who was also a Pastor for several years.  He is challenging us to put aside our differences and simply pray for the government.  No democrats or republicans, just us before the Lord praying for our government leaders.

6 Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
7 It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
8 yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.
Prov 6:6-8
This verse inspires me to save money, and canned food.  I actually decided getting out to shoot photos is best in the spring, summer and fall.  Painting and writing stories is best in winter when the trees are dry branches.  God wants us to use our heads to seize the day.

"What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law--justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.
Matt 23:23
In most Churches tithing 10% of our income is the standard.  Jesus didn't want us to become proud of our tithes and offerings.  Justice, mercy and faith are more important than man's money.  I wonder if God ever shakes His head and says, "Oy!  I hope they get it right."  Guess that's why Jesus came.  We do get caught up in "More, more, MORE!"  We need a Savior.  I still don't follow the prosperity doctrine's thinking.  There's no place in the Bible that it says we should make demands of God.  He seeks the humble hearts, not the arrogant.  I may be missing something...

For the Scripture says, "You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain." And in another place, "Those who work deserve their pay!"
1 Tim. 5:18
This verse touches my heart.  We are a nation of hardworking people.  Years ago oxen would tread on grain for bread.  It means a lot to me that God would consider animals in our work.  If the oxen were muzzled they just walked around in circles all day desiring to eat the grain.  This could lead to severe grumpiness!  Don't know much about oxen but I really don't want to be kicked by one or trampled...  People deserve to be paid fairly.  Cutting pay for company profits is a bad idea.  Employees need to be able to respect their employers.

For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.
1 Tim 6:10
Putting money above my family, my faith, the needs of others leads to a very lonely, hopeless life.  Things only satisfy when they're new, after that they become outdated.  Spending too much time dwelling on a lack of money also kills our souls.  

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Phil. 4:19
While I was in business, and even now while I'm trying to make it in freelance work, this verse always cheers me up when I'm worried about money.  God will supply our needs.  Maybe not all the things we want, the needs.  He's most concerned with our heart's desires, and the condition of our souls.  He has blessed my family in some amazing ways.  I am so grateful God has so much love and compassion.


Feel free to comment if you like.  God bless!



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Walking on water

Sometimes life feels like I'm sinking in the waves.  One more problem will be the end of me for sure.  Like when the power went out for a week in the hurricane,  I actually had a meltdown when it went out the second time.  My husband accidentally stepped on my boom box... and Eeek!  At the end of my rope, I whimpered to God, "Please turn the power back on.  Nothing is impossible for You."  

My husband and I put on our hoodie sweatshirts, and snuggled in bed.  Then late that night the lights, heat, and electric blanket came on : )  So I whispered my thanks to God. I don't know how the people that are still displaced from the storm can handle it.  I'll keep praying.

Then there's the times when I'm running on top of the waves.  Opportunities open and nothing seems impossible.  But, it's the time in the waves that makes me seek the Lord and pray harder.  I don't like problems at all.  When they're solved, it sure is great.  Yeah, faith stretchers are good for me.  I admit it.  

Peter, by nature, knew about having his faith stretched.  You gotta give him credit though, he wasn't afraid to ask.

After Jesus fed 5,000 people on the mountain, He realized they were ready to force Him to be their King.  He came to be the King of kings, not just a king for one generation.  So, He went by himself to a mountain at night. (John 6:15)

We can all relate to the need to get away and be alone.  The disciples were not sure what to do.  So, as time passed they chose to get in a boat and join Him.

John 6:16-19
16 Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them. 18 Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing. 19 So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid.
NKJV
The disciples must've been worried about Jesus.  They didn't quite grasp how Jesus could be God's Son yet.  So, for them, a missing Master was a big deal.   Their nerves were probably frazzled, a storm came with high winds (we know about that in New Jersey).  Sometimes trying to save someone seems so impossible.  

Then a man came toward them walking on top of the water.  I can see Peter whispering, "Do you see that?" wondering if he lost his mind.  Peter was ALWAYS the first one to speak...

"You see it too?" 

"I see it.  How can it be?  Who is it?"

I think Jesus was enjoying his walk through the storm, reflecting on His time alone.  Maybe the rise and fall of the waves beneath His feet brought a smile.  Nothing like His Father's sea spray to perk up the senses.  I have no doubt He wasn't afraid.  

Mark 6:48-51
48 Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. 49 And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; 50 for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid." 
NKJV
The fourth watch of the night would've been near daybreak.  Each night was divided into 4 watches where soldiers would stand guard to protect the cities.  I can totally understand why the disciples thought He was a ghost and got scared.  If it were 2012 and Jesus walked toward me on water, I might cry out, "Go away!  What are you?"

But Jesus reassured them, "It's Me, don't be afraid."

Peter had to make absolutely sure this was really Jesus.  So he came up with a test...

Matt 14:28-33
28 And Peter answered Him and said, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water."

29 So He said, "Come." And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, "Lord, save me!"
Peter actually got to walk on the water!  How cool is that?  I would love to take my camera for a walk with Jesus on the water : )  Can you imagine the photos you'd get?  I do ask Him to show me where the good shots are when I shoot on land... hope it's not cheating.  

I imagine Peter as a large man, with big muscles from pulling in fishing nets.  So, for him, getting scared isn't a normal feeling.  Jesus would've known that.  He knows our weaknesses and strengths.  Maybe this was a way for Him to get Peter out of his confident life and into faith.
31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"  32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
Jesus showed compassion.  He didn't leave Peter out there floundering in the waves.   He reached out and pulled him into the boat.  The wind quit blowing.

33 Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, "Truly You are the Son of God."
NKJV
The disciples saw another glimpse of Jesus, the Son of God, the King of kings.  He holds His nail scarred hand out to us today.  Waiting for us to have the faith to accept it.  He's there in our storms and in our successes.  He is always with us.

Here's another great song by Chris Tomlin, Whom shall I fear? (link) .

It's so encouraging to see many Christian musicians doing concerts to help those who received damage from Superstorm Sandy.  New Jersey residents, Bruce Springsteen (The Boss), and Bon Jovi are also doing concerts to help out.  Several other musicians will be joining them 12-12-12, in NYC (including Paul McCartney).  I hope Bruce sings, "My city of ruins."  He wrote a wonderful prayer in it.  He sang it after 9-11.

Still praying homes will be restored.  And for peace in Jerusalem.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Unusual Thanksgiving

© Karen Kyle Ericson, all rights reserved.

Last week was our American Thanksgiving holiday.  The advertisements on television, showed beautiful homes (no dust bunnies), beautiful people, and the most perfect turkey you can dream of.  No one in my family has ever been able to cook the perfect looking turkey : )  As a photographer, I'm thinking plastic with gel on it.  I don't recall my Grandmother wearing diamond jewelry to dinner either.

This year's Thanksgiving was different from most.  Because of the storm, my husband had to miss some days of work.  He had to make up the time on Thanksgiving.  The whole staff in the Nursing Home was there with him.  He got home late.  I made a frozen turkey loaf with gravy, instant mashed potatoes, dressing, and heated a can of corn.  It was a feast with some pumpkin pie and whip cream.  I was so grateful to have my kitchen back, for our meal and my husband.  He still makes my heart dance when he gets home.  Ok, so last night he ate the last 2 pieces of pie by himself...  no one's perfect.

The News showed how a group of people went to Long Island, NY and made Thanksgiving dinner for those without homes.  I felt such pride that people would go out of their way to make someone else's holiday special.  Then the camera zoomed in on an older woman.  She was holding back tears as she said, "This is hard.  I usually make Thanksgiving dinner.  My family gets together.  I don't have a kitchen."

Sometimes being thankful isn't how we feel at all.  Thankfulness isn't really a feeling, it's a choice.  And sometimes it's ok to just cry.  Most of us can think of all the possessions and people we are thankful for.  When I'm down, it's amazing how choosing to thank God, lifts my spirits.  

Everyday is a day of thanksgiving for Christians.  We have much to be thankful for!  Here's a great song by Matt Redman,   10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) link.  I just raised the roof in my studio singing along : )


I found these Thanksgiving Psalms the other night.  It seemed like the Lord turned the pages of my Bible to what He wanted me to read.



Psalm 100

1 Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before His presence with singing.
3 Know that the Lord, He is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.
5 For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations.
NKJV

Psalm 103

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
3 Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
4 Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
5 Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

6 The Lord executes righteousness
And justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the children of Israel.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
9 He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.

11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
14 For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.
17 But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
On those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children's children,
18 To such as keep His covenant,
And to those who remember His commandments to do them.
19 The Lord has established His throne in heaven,
And His kingdom rules over all.

20 Bless the Lord, you His angels,
Who excel in strength, who do His word,
Heeding the voice of His word.
21 Bless the Lord, all you His hosts,
You ministers of His, who do His pleasure.
22 Bless the Lord, all His works,
In all places of His dominion.

Bless the Lord, O my soul!
NKJV

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lessons Learned from Superstorm Sandy

1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me!
For my soul trusts in You;
And in the shadow of your wings
I will take refuge,
Until these calamities have passed by.
2 I will cry out to God Most High,
To God who performs all things for me.
Psalm 57:1-2 NKJV

It's so amazing how the Bible still applies to us today : )  Our calamities change with the generations, but God's Word is still active (Hebrews 4:12).

The east coast of the USA, has had an intense few weeks.  We came through the storm just fine, with no damage.   Not everyone did.  There were many losses along the New Jersey and New York shores.  People learned to pull together in new ways.


My Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,
I lift up those without power to You.  I pray You will step into the center of the problems and help them get heat for their homes.  Where there is confusion and politics let there be a single focus, to save lives.  Where there is fear bring peace and hope.  Let Your love and amazing compassion be known to all.  Let them know of Your presence.  Renew the spirits of those who are working so hard to help out.  Guide the homeless to safety, through this frightening journey.
In Jesus Name, Amen.


After the storm


In my last post I mentioned the wooden cross in Ocean Grove.  The video below is a bike tour right after the storm.  The wooden cross was replaced by a metal pipe cross.  It goes by quickly but you can see it.
Ocean Grove Boardwalk Bike Ride After Superstorm Sandy (Youtube)

Last year I did a photo shoot through Ocean Grove before the storm.  I wrote about it in my photo blog, if you'd like to see it before the storm.  It also tells the story of this Christian community.  I did the blog posts in reverse order wasn't sure how to do it properly on a blog...
Ocean Grove before Superstorm Sandy (link to my photo blog)


I realize most countries and states are more experienced with major storms than we are.  I'm writing some of my lessons learned in case someone else can use them.  I am a new storm survivor.  We did have Hurricane Irene last year.  If anyone has other ideas please feel free to share them.

My Lessons Learned (the hard way...)
  1. I put a tablecloth on the coffee table and made it our station for candles, the radio, flashlights, matches, my Kindle (has the Bible in it)...   We got to use our gigantic wedding candle!  I put all the breakables on the washing machine (knew we wouldn't be using it for awhile).  It worked out well, we knew what to bump into to get a flashlight.
  2. If you don't have a generator, get one in an off season.  They are less expensive and more available.
  3. It takes gasoline to operate a generator.  In our case, it was hard to get into the state after the storm.  We ran out of gas...  So, we could only run the generator until it ran out of gas.
  4. My neighbor suggested boiling large pans of water on the gas stove (if you can) for heat.  It worked really well.  Use common sense:  don't leave the house or go to sleep with the stove on.  Gas isn't our friend.
  5. The generator wasn't on long enough to save our food in the refrigerator.  I learned that you can fill all the tupperware bowls (or a large pan) with water and freeze them.  Put them in the refrigerator when the power goes out, the food will last.
  6. Check trees around the house before a storm.  If any are damaged or leaning, it's wise to take them down.  Trees caused the majority of damage in towns not on the Jersey shore.  
  7. Make sure everyone's thermal underwear, hats, gloves, coats, etc. are in a place you can find them.  It's really hard to find things when the power goes out : )
  8. Keep a stock of canned goods.  Canned goods are great.  I could heat up some stew or ravioli on the gas stove in a pan.  They can also be cooked on a fire.  Stock up before a storm is announced.
  9. Buy fruit that doesn't need to be refrigerated.  Bananas and apples are great to help with the nutritional value of canned food.  Maybe raisins and dried fruit too.  (I'm not an expert on this...)
  10. Make sure everyone in the state knows what the law is when the traffic lights go out.  People had their own interpretation in New Jersey.  Some stopped and some hit the gas pedal, "Free at last!"  Unfortunately, we had lots of accidents on top of the storm recovery.  I stopped at a dark traffic light, only to see the woman in the opposite lanes get rear-ended.  The police and fire department had way too much to deal with.  It kept them from helping storm victims.
  11. Cats make great lap warmers.  Our 20 lb. cat sat on my lap and it was like an electric blanket : )
  12. Keep a good stock of batteries in the house for the radio, flashlights, lanterns, cell phone charging.  Make a list of what you need and buy them before the storm is announced. You can still purchase Boom boxes that play CDs, the radio, cassettes and run on batteries : )  I may be the only one in the world, who's thrilled about this!
  13. It was really nice not watching TV.  We missed a lot of campaign ads.  Yes!!!  Got to know my hubby again.  I married a good guy.
Feel free to comment if you like : )

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricanes and Mother-in-Laws

"Before the storm"
Ocean Grove on the Jersey Shore

© Karen Kyle Ericson, all rights reserved.
Well here we are... again.  A hurricane/superstorm is here in New Jersey.  Of all things they named it the same name as my Mother-in-law.  It's unfair or maybe a test of my faith.  I found my peace a few months ago.  She's not controlling, just anxious.  Who am I to judge?  My husband said, "Look honey my Mom is coming to visit on Monday."

My heart started to pound, back spasmed, "Whaaat?"

"She's in the News."

Oh of course, it's ok.  I can breathe.  We laughed together.

I took this photo last summer.  I wonder if the cross will stand up to Sandy.  The old wooden cross is just a symbol really.  Zephaniah 3:17 promises God Himself is in our midst.  Especially when we're scared.  Or maybe we pay more attention to His presence when we're scared.  This is a scary storm.  It's huge and our state is the front door for it to move into the midwest.  My heart goes out to the millions of people in New York.  NYC is cramped.  We have lots of open space that the city doesn't.  I really appreciate all the prayers for us.  Even the candidates are stopping to help out and pray.  Thank you.

One person said the lack of campaigning is a gift from God : )  Maybe so.  We are weary of all the negative ads.

As I was anxiously praying about the storm Zephaniah 3:17 came to mind.  God will never leave us nor forsake us.  He is mighty to save.  For hurricane Irene I sang Kumbaya as the wind pounded the big trees outside.  "Come by here my Lord, come by here."  I will probably be singing again this year.

Dear Heavenly Father,
I pray You will comfort and guide us through this storm.  Please change this mighty storm to a wisp of wind.  Let it go out to sea where no one will be hurt.  You are mighty to save.  Comfort us in our fear and help us remember Your Word.  You are always with us.
In Jesus Name, Amen

I don't know how long we'll have power.  I wanted to get this out before we're in the dark.  The worst for us is supposed to be tonight and tomorrow morning.  My battery operated gadgets are charged.   Camera ready.  May God bless us one and all.   I'll keep praying : )

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.  
Psalm 27:13

Last night I prayed they wouldn't forget us and leave us in the dark.  This morning I woke up to a helicopter outside the window : )  It was the National Guard checking in on us.  We got our power today (11-4-12) after 4pm.  Thank you so much for prayers.  God bless!  Karen  
P.S.  Still more prayers and work to do for others.  God will guide me.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

We can do it!


This morning I was making pot roast in the Crockpot. I do my best thinking while my hands are busy hahaha.  Cooking is a necessity for me, not something I really enjoy.  When my husband smiles, it makes me happy.  I have collected several quick fix, nutritious recipes (I might post some on the side of my blog).

As I sliced carrots and celery, I was thinking about our economy.  I mentioned working for The Boeing Company before.  The upcoming defense contract cuts are going to raise unemployment and can cause some serious damage in the states.  There was a time when Seattle lost so many jobs a billboard was put up which read, "Will the last one out turn off the lights please?"

So, Romney is right, investing in defense helps in more ways than just military status.  The fact that Seattle and Boeing, are still here  is a good reminder that our stubborn, hard-working people are survivors.  We've been here before and we'll get through this.  Remember Rosie the Riveter?  This was used in World War II and still inspires me.  Yeah!  I know God, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  Philippians 4:13


"Rosie the Riveter"
National Park Service
I keep thinking about Savings Bonds too.  When I was at Boeing we had the option to purchase Savings Bonds through our paychecks.  They are great.  We were able to move from Seattle, WA to New Jersey with the money I'd saved.  Plus it puts money back into our National Treasury.  It was started by Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1935, and contributed billions of dollars to offset the costs of World War II.  Parents could buy a $25 bond for children, put them aside, and have some college  or wedding money for the kids when they grew up.  I would love to see our government focus on these again rather than hospital fines or insurance.  These fines could bring more unemployment to the healthcare industry.

Unemployment is hard on people.  Even though I've graduated from NYIP, at age 52, I catch myself feeling unemployed.  It's different from business for sure, much more relaxing and satisfying.  The truth is I have a career, just need to keep at it.  I've earned some money so far.  "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  Philippians 4:13

My heart goes out to those who are unemployed.  I know what it is to have to look through the Want Ads one more time, each day.  I contracted a lot, which meant lots of searching between jobs.  It's not fun.  God hasn't forgotten you, He has a plan.  You are not a failure, just out of work.  Never give up.  We all need to think new thoughts, and come up with creative ideas for careers these days.  One guy started a snow shoveling business.  He was out of work and got busy shoveling.


3 cheers for the cheerleaders who are putting up banners with Bible verses on them, at football games!  That's great!  It seems God is getting His Word out in all sorts of places : )  They never thought they couldn't do it, so they did.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Trust issues

"Wonder what the little butterfly is thinking..."
© Karen Kyle Ericson, all rights reserved.

I heard that the winner of the VP debate last night was Joe Biden's dentist.  He grinned and laughed the whole time, interrupting Paul Ryan.  I had to admit the dentist did do a great job : )  His teeth were white and straight.  American humor strikes again.  My husband and I tried to watch the debate but we'd seen too much of these antics in the last four years.  Nothing new there.  We went to bed early.

I was thinking today about how on earth we'll get through this time.  Then I remembered Proverbs 3:5-6.  It's good for us to think about things and figure it all out.  But at the end of the day, it's really the Lord who gives the best advice, knows all and sees all.  Nothing gets past Him.  I need to trust Him that whatever happens next, He will direct us and guide us in the right direction.  I'll continue to pray for wisdom about the candidates.  Another month and the elections will be over.

I chose this photo because it reminded me of how bugs, birds, and most animals know exactly where to go for food.  God has given them instincts to go where they need to during the seasons.  I believe this is called a "Butterfly bush."  But the bumblebees seem to like it too.  God's given us a pretty good set of instincts too, when we're trusting in Him.

Feel free to comment if you like : )

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Leadership

When I worked in business, one of my roles was to lead teams to come up with system requirements to automate Boeing, a large defense and aerospace company.  I was there for ten years.  My Mom used to ask, "You lead teams of men?  How can you do that?"

Quite honestly, I needed to earn money.  But the truth about good leadership is that it requires listening to the team.  There was no way I could tell the team how to do their jobs.  But with faith, and prayer, I was able to ask the right questions and document requirements.  I always got the job done.  The guys lovingly called me, "Mad dog."  It still makes me laugh because I have a high pitched squeaky voice and am not the mad dog type hahaha.

I never forgot how effective listening is in leadership.  It's about standing up against rudeness and letting everyone have a say.  It's about allowing the experts to come up with world class ideas (without killing each other).  People really appreciate that.  At one point one of the guys said, "Why don't we just say we did this and don't?"

I panicked and prayed.  The words spilled out of my mouth, "This is America, with freedom comes responsibility.  We owe it to our managers to do the job right."

One of the guys stood up and said, "We shouldn't even be asking such a question."

I envisioned the American flag waving in the conference room.  We went on to finish the job.

What made me feel successful was when I saw the pride on the faces of my team members as we finished projects and solved problems.  I was just the facilitator for these guys.

So when I heard Romney, in the debate, say he would reach across the aisles in Congress.  And allow people to speak, I smiled.  Obama insisted you have to tell people what to do.  But I know the difference between dictating and disabling, and allowing people to do the job.  I've seen it first hand.  The agenda must be clear.  The details need to be sorted out by our Representatives, Senators and the President.  This is America, with independence comes responsibility.  They owe it to our people to represent us well, listen to us and do a good job.

The story of how Jesus fed the 5000 is a great example of leadership.  Naturally Jesus is the best all-time leader.  He always included the disciples.  They needed to learn the truth so they could carry on with His work to build the Church.  Also, God has always loved people.  He became the sacrifice for our sin.  It makes sense He would want to be with people face to face.  The only time He didn't bring the disciples along was when He was crucified.


John 6 

1…Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2  And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on  the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 

5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7  Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.”
It makes me wonder if Jesus heard tummies growling or if He just knew they were hungry.  He always knows what we need even if it's not exactly what we want.

8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”  Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted
He listened to ideas.  He provided their needs and there were leftovers!  Jesus started small with 5 loaves and 2 fish.  There are many uncertainties in our world today.  But, we can be sure Jesus will supply our needs.   Nothing is impossible for Him.

12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Becoming a human king wasn't Jesus' agenda.  He became the King of Kings, our Savior.  He didn't allow His agenda to be changed.
ESV

Feel free to comment if you like : )

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Today!

"Memories of my Grandma"
© Karen Kyle Ericson, all rights reserved. 


Guess I'm not the only one going bonkers over the elections this year.  I just saw an ad from JetBlue. They are offering free flights out of the country, if our candidate doesn't win the election : )  One thing I love about the USA is the sense of humor.  

We agree budgets need to be cut.  All the nations seem to be struggling with their economies.  Our President will be making military budget cuts, before the soldiers come home.  Sometimes my mind goes into a loop trying to understand the thought processes.  Bring them home and no budget cuts will be necessary...  Maybe I'm too simplistic.  My husband yells at football on TV.  I yell at the politics.  The cats go upstairs and sleep... err hide? 

I had a hard time sleeping last night, worrying about the future of the world.  Oy!  God has a plan and I need to keep the faith.  His shoulders are way more capable of carrying the weight of the world than mine.  This morning I prayed again for the military, and all these verses came to mind.  Guess He knew I needed to quit worrying!

Isaiah 43
18 Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider the things of old.
19 Behold I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.

I shouldn't dwell in the past.  Yesterday is gone.  I don't want to miss the new stuff today.  I can shoot photos on the same trail and come up with something new everyday.


Matthew 6
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
13 Do not lead us into temptation.
But deliver us from the evil one.
Focus on today.  Make it the best today ever.  I thank God for all we have today.

34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Tomorrow isn't here and what I do today, will impact tomorrow.  I need to get some paintings done.  Gotta keep shooting those photos.  Still praying for Israel and the military.

My Grandma was good at keeping busy.  She watched sports while knitting, crocheting, or tatting.  One game on the TV, another on the radio.  She was born in 1896. I don't remember seeing her worried.  She didn't seem to have time for that.  Yet, she experienced some real adventures in her life.  The first man on the moon, a world war, the depression, the first TV sets, the hippies...    


Jeremiah 29
11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Things will work out for us too.  Here on earth, or in Heaven.


Feel free to comment if you think of something : )





Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Good news

The TV News keeps bringing more and more bad news.  Last night I was troubled and remembered the Lord's prayer.  Sometimes I simply don't know where to start : )  With all the stuff building up, it's getting harder and harder.  So glad He gave us a prayer to recite.  After I prayed, I felt peace and joy.  This is way out of my control.

Jesus told us to pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed by Your name,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts
As we forgive our debtors,
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one,
For Yours is the kingdom and the power
and the glory forever. 
Amen.
Matthew 6:9-13

At times, it feels like I'm watching a speeded up version of Tim LaHaye & Jerry B. Jenkins series, Left Behind.  So many nations are rising up against each other, ok us.  Our Administration continues to focus on a movie being responsible, but the world leaders believe the President is responsible to solve the problem.  It doesn't appear the world leaders want to hear about a movie.  At this point we can't say for sure if this is the end times.  Because Jesus said, 

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.  But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only."  Matthew 25:35-36

It appears some of the old Biblical prophecies could be fulfilled, but no one knows for sure.  I'm debating about writing about the prophecies.  I hesitate because they can be so misinterpreted and the last thing I want to do is spread more fear.  The Mayan calendar isn't in there, sorry.  My theory about the calendar is the guys who started it, got bored, and decided to work on football instead.  Just a thought...  

The good news-

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Genesis 1:1
The heavens and earth aren't fragile things man put together.  They are God's workmanship.

The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.  Psalm 24:1
God, not man, has ultimate authority over what happens.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world,  but that the world through Him might be saved.  John 3:16-17
God loves us all.  Even those who are different.  He didn't send Jesus to condemn us all to destruction.  He came to save us.  

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
No one is beyond His love or ability to forgive.  We just need to believe and confess, to allow Him to be Lord of our life.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4
Jesus will come to take us home to Heaven, the New Jerusalem.  We will not fear anymore. 

This is a very important year to remember to vote!  And, please pray with me for Israel.  The leader of Iran verbally said his goal is to completely destroy Israel at the United Nations.  Hard to believe it's real, but it is... this is in the prophecies.

Feel free to leave a comment if you'd like me to go through the prophecies.  I'm still undecided.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Scripture & a Snapshot

"May God bless the military"
© Karen Kyle Ericson, all rights reserved.

I was out shooting and saw this medical helicopter flying overhead.  I imagined how many horrors the medics must see in the field.  It would take more than courage to be able to do such a job.  It reminded me of the verse above.  Then I thought about those fighting on the ground and wished this would all end.  I hope they can all come home soon.  Jesus promised their sacrifice won't go unnoticed.  I am grateful for them.

In America, a rogue "Pastor" posted a youtube movie.  I really don't understand his intentions.  Instead of the hope of Christ, he brought more violence.  Our country has laws against "Hate Crimes."  Yet this movie was deemed "free speech" by our Administration.  More soldiers were killed and wounded.  Evidently, "Hate Crimes" doesn't apply to foreign nations or American Muslims.  Doesn't make sense to me.  Seems like they should just take down the movie.  I am grateful for England and the other nations who are working together.

In the midst of all the craziness, one thing remains true.  God is still on His throne.  No actions go unnoticed by Him.  I found this great quote:

"The love of God is never idle."  Francis of Assisi

Things may seem dark but His light is still there.  Sometimes we just have to look up.  Here's my prayer.  I must admit it's hard for me to know what to pray.

Dear Heavenly Father I lift up the soldiers overseas to You.  I pray You will guide them and protect them.  Help them not to give up and return to their homes and families soon.  Forgive us all where we've failed You, and help us to move forward in the right direction.

In Jesus Name, Amen.


Side note- I graduated from New York Institute of Photography, my fears were wrong.  I am very grateful and have a new peace.  Now that I'm done I'll have more time for my blogs again.  God bless!  And feel free to comment if you think of something.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Eagle Wings

"Like Eagles" 
Corel Painter
© Karen Kyle Ericson, all rights reserved.
Still waiting to hear from New York Institute of Photography about my photos... tap, tap, tap.  I'm not a very good waiter.  I go through thoughts of, "I failed!  No one wants to tell me!"  Then there's, "Eesh it's only been a week..."  I have to laugh at myself.  So what's the worst thing we can do while waiting?  Sit and think about why we're waiting haha.

This is my husband's favorite verse.  The Lord tells us to wait for Him.  Even in these photo assignments, He has a plan.  Maybe he wanted me to draw an eagle today : )  ... and practice drawing...  We don't know right now, but it'll all be clear one day.  The great part about waiting, is this verse promises we'll gather strength.  Anxiety does the opposite.

I'm still not exactly clear where this trail is leading.   I am sure the best thing I can do is keep working at it.  

I actually found the verse below before I got married.  Sometimes I would get so anxious thinking I'd never find someone.  Then I realized we are all so much more attractive when we're happy and busy.  I have more to talk about and share when I'm with others.  I used to make a date with Jesus.  Just spend the day with Him, thinking about His Word.  It's a great experience to include Him in everything.

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands…
1 Thessalonians 4:11 NASB
I love the simplicity of this verse.  Makes me want to keep busy while I wait.  It'll all work out fine in the end.

Feel free to comment if you like.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Only Jesus

I just submitted my final photo projects to the New York Institute of Photography last Friday.  I shot and re-shot photos looking for perfection.  There's 2 that concern me quite a bit.  I was dwelling on them until I felt anxious and worried.  I realized if I didn't send them in, I'd never finish...  Even the director of NYIP said that we won't do perfect shots.  No one's perfect.  And they will let me know if I need to make changes.  Sometimes I get that way when I mess up too.  I just can't let things go.  As Christians we will never be perfect either.  That's why we need a Savior.  The Bible does promise there will be a day when we'll be perfected in Christ.  But not this side of Heaven.  Letting go of my photos, and sin feels awesome!  The weight is gone, now I can do what I love.

I've been reading a book about Martin Luther (1483-1546), Storm by Reg Grant (it's a great book).  Luther was caught up in his sin.  No matter how many actions he tried to perform, he never felt forgiven.  He was reading the Bible and learned his sin is forgiven by God's grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  He was so relieved he wanted everyone to know about this.  So he demanded the Bible be made available to everyone.  He was a monk who couldn't keep his mouth shut.  I can't even count the number of versions we have available today.   I am so grateful to be able to read it anytime.

John 5:30-47


Jesus is talking to the religious leaders.  Jesus and the Father are one, so Jesus can't exist without God.  
30 I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.

John the Baptist told the crowds about Jesus.  He bore witness of Jesus and prepared the way for Him.
31 “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. 32 There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true. 33 You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 

His works, and actions are His testimony.  But the leaders were too blinded by their desire to follow the law.  Hope my actions speak louder than my words.
34 Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved. 35 He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light. 36 But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. 37 And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. 

The Scriptures contain His testimony.  So glad God used Martin Luther to get the Bible out.
38 But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. 39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me

Even if we memorized the whole Bible it wouldn't save us.  Only Jesus can.  So easy, yet sometimes hard.
40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.

Obeying the law of Moses alone can't save us.  Like Martin Luther realized, our works aren't enough to find forgiveness with God.  We can't purchase a ticket to Heaven.  We only need to have faith, to believe.
41 “I do not receive honor from men. 42 But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. 43 I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. 44 How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?
New King James Version (NKJV)

Those pesty sins, we try scrubbing and soaking but they won't go away.  Like the old hymn says, "What can wash away my sin?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus."

Friday, August 3, 2012

Scripture & A Snapshot

© Karen Kyle Ericson, all rights reserved.

I'm not always a peace maker.  You can ask my husband : )  This verse is on my calendar for August 2012.  At first, I read it and thought, "I want to be a peace maker."  It's such a wonderful word, "peace."  Then I remembered that dirty look I gave someone last week.  I was grumpy to begin with so I'm not so sure it was an official "dirty look."  But it wasn't encouraging that's for sure.  I think about always smiling whether I feel like it or not.  Fake smiles don't work very well on me...  People know.  God knows when I'm faking it.  He's not impressed.

Maybe making peace isn't about outward appearance and smiles.  Last Sunday our Church had no electricity.  We had a bad storm and the township was knocked out.  It even made the News on TV.  We got to Church and only the Choir Director and Pastor were there.  They figured no one would show up, so they were preparing to shut down.  Something about it made me remember times of worship with no music, no lights, just candles.  Just singing to the Lord.  So I encouraged the Pastor and Choir Director to sing some simple hymns.  After all Jesus said, "Where two or more are gathered in My Name, I will be there."

So we proceeded with a simple service.  Slowly people came, climbing over tree branches and maneuvering the streets.  The Church was half full : )  We sang "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty" (one of my favorites).  The Pastor's message was on how God always starts small and then builds.   An example of this was how Jesus fed the multitudes with some bread and a fish.

As we walked out the door, I had to laugh with the Pastor.  God had provided a living example for us.  In the midst of a disaster, we found peace.  I don't think it's just about smiles, it's about His warm presence in us.  Worshiping together brings a harvest of righteousness (faith).  It's about listening without judging, letting His light shine, making peace.

Feel free to comment if you like : )

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Scripture & a Snapshot

"Brown patches of grass"
© Karen Kyle Ericson, all rights reserved.
The weather in the USA has been hot this year.  It has been between 90 to over 100 with high humidity.  It doesn't help that the weather reporters color the map bright red and purple in the hottest spots.  There were several wild fires in the west- just came out of nowhere.  The bright, green grass is turning brown.


Sometimes life feels like that too.  We get bored or stuck.  Our faith feels dry and empty.  In this verse David is earnestly seeking God.  His soul thirsts and body longs for Him.  With all the political things and craziness in the world today, I long for Him too.  The truth is He is always with us.  Reading His Word is like a fountain spraying me out of the dryness, reminding me of His presence and plan.  So glad He gave us the Bible.  One of my friends used to call it, "The Human User's Guide."


When I am in good spirits, I can sense His presence with me.  I have joy.  It used to drive my co-workers crazy, because I'd usually smile at work.  Some became jealous and thought my job was better than theirs.  The jobs I had weren't wonderful.  But the truth is, the Lord blessed me with joy.  His blessings are for all of us.    


I still have times of drought focussing on everything but God.  When those times come, I remember this verse and make it my prayer:
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Psalm 51:12
Feel free to comment if you like : )


Side note- we just got back from vacation last week.  I went outside and took this photo this morning.  Sorry to have missed you, but I'm back now.