St. Joseph’s: A Beautiful Surprise!

There are small two towns just off I-96 between our home and Chicago, and we’ve driven by the exit sign probably more than a hundred times over the past 25 years. One is St. Joseph, and the other is Benton Harbor.  They are known as “The Twin Cities” and are only separated by the St. Joseph River, so in my mind, I always thought of them as basically the same town. In fact, because of their proximity, I confused their reputations.  Sadly, Benton Harbor has the lowest per capita income of any town in the state, with over 40% of the population being below the poverty level. The town also has a reputation for being crime-ridden and a place to avoid…rather like the south side of Chicago: Don’t venture in unless you’re prepared for the possibility of being mugged or shot.  However, not long ago, Joel showed us a photo of a beach in St. Joseph that looked so appealing Alan and I decided to do something we’ve never done before: We stopped by to check out St. Joseph on our way home from Warren Dunes.

We were amazed…and delighted! St. Joseph is a beautiful little resort town.  Last Saturday, they were having an auto show with a parade of old cars.  How fun!  They also had a great farmers’ market  loaded with everything  that makes an open-air market mouth-watering  and delicious.  They have a downtown area lined with restaurants and shops  as cute as that in Holland, Michigan.  They have their own neighborhood of classic old homes  that looks like Heritage Hill here in Grand Rapids.  They have a free splash pad at their ” Whirlpool Centennial Park,”   and a gorgeous waterfront at Silver Beach Park  that rivals that of our all-time favorite getaway, Grand Haven.  In fact, the parking lot at the beach was full,  and we had to park some blocks away down a quiet side street.  However, that worked out just fine, because it gave us a good chance  to have our own walking tour of the downtown area and waterfront,  and Alan’s nose tracked down a delightful roof-top cafe  for some fresh perch fish’n’chips.

  All told, we had an A+ experience and marveled that in all these years we’d totally overlooked this little gem of a beachfront resort because of their “twin” city’s reputation. Now the harder question is: Why is one city thriving while the other is failing?, and I don’t know the answer to that. They’re both too far from home for me to try to get involved in solving that problem. (And, we have plenty of poverty and crime right here in GR.)  But, the easier question is this: What or who else am I avoiding because of an undeserved bad reputation? Am I missing out on getting to know someone just because they are related to someone with a bad reputation?  May I (we) learn to be more discerning, evaluating each potential friend according to their own character, not the character of their “family.”  The Bible sets the right example: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (Ezekiel 18:20).  Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:8-9).

Warren Dunes: A Mountain or a Mole Hill?

Warren Dunes State Park on the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan is one of Michigan’s most popular, and the campground is routinely rated among the top five.
With nearly a million visitors every year,  the campground is generally completely full in July and August  (with many cars bearing Illinois plates…just 90 miles from Chicago),  so if you enjoy camping, get your reservation in exactly six months to the day  before you hope to arrive, or you may be out of luck!  The beach is wonderful—a wide, sugar sand stretch just perfect for swimming, wind surfing, kiting, walking or sunbathing.  There are clean bathhouses
and a couple of lunch spots for hot dogs and ice cream.  When our kids were little,  they used to love playing in the stream that runs out to the lake.  Upstream about a mile you can find clay for face and body painting, but that’s being discouraged now due to health and environmental issues.  Besides all this, there are six miles of hiking trails and several large dunes  with names like Mt. Fuller, Pike’s Peak and Mt. Edwards.
(The dunes are becoming quite popular for sand boarding!)

However, if you remember that Michigan is pretty much a sandbar, you’ll understand that this is sort of a joke, because the highest and most prominent sand dune, Tower Hill, is only 240 feet above sea level.  🙂 We went last Friday night after Alan was done with work, so we arrived during the golden glow of evening. (Rabbit Trail: We were too tired to climb the dune and do any stargazing, but if you happen to go, it’s a wonderful place to see the stars, and right now [mid-August] there are an unusually high number of shooting stars. This is true worldwide as Earth passes through the debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. The peak viewing was last weekend—after midnight and before sunrise—with multiple dozens of Perseid meteorite “fireballs,” but the show runs July 13-August 26, so if you get a chance, look up tonight! http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/08/perseid-meteor-shower-august-shooting-stars-skywatching-science/  )

Well, Saturday morning we decided to climb! When our kids were little, it didn’t seem very far or hard to climb to the top, but this time we took some breaks on our way up, and by the time we reached the top, I literally had to stop and catch my breath! (Alan waited patiently for me!)I was somewhat reassured to notice that climbing the hill  was a bit of a challenge for most of the families. (Of course, they’d been sledding and might have gone up and down before!)  We’re admonished not to make mountains out of mole hills, but sometimes even mole hills do seem a bit like mountains, particularly for the young and old! I hope we can all be sensitive to what seems like a mountain to those we love—whether or not it seems like “a big deal” to us personally. Life is better shared, but we can’t share unless we learn compassion and try to understand the mountains in one another’s lives. Let’s keep climbing together!

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Romans 15:1-2, ESV; This is written as “We then that are strong” but I now find myself more often in the “failings of the weak” category!)

Rise Up, My Love (247): Up Early

Song of Solomon 7:12 “Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth: there will I give thee my loves.” Have you ever had orange juice that was fresh-squeezed from the trees outside your door? I have on a few very rare occasions. The first time was at a bed and breakfast overlooking the pounding Pacific coast. That breakfast, with its array of home made delights, will ever live in my memory! This verse, with its promise of sweetness at the end of labor, makes me think of such a feast. Let’s look at each phrase and squeeze out the bursting goodness, as if we’re making our own refreshing glass of orange juice.

“Let us get up…” You can’t “get up” unless you’ve been lying down. The couple had been enjoying the communion of love and rest, but the wife now understands that relaxation and refreshment are for the purpose of restoring energy for labor. Jesus went apart to pray, but always with the purpose of strengthening himself for the stresses and strains of physical ministry and spiritual warfare.

As frail humans, it is often said that we must come apart sometimes, or we will fall apart! When our youngest son, Joel, was a child, he had rechargeable batteries for his little hand-held computer games. One night he was so tired that he sighed, “I wish I could get plugged in and be recharged too.”

“Let us get up…” We’ve been recharged by drinking from the wells of living love and a restful season of sleep…now let us get up and go! Getting up is ever hard work; it’s an uphill battle! How easy it would be to pull a dark cover of excuses over our heads, shut off the alarm clock of the Holy Spirit’s urging, and roll over for another round of spiritual lethargy. How easy when our senses are dull, but not when our senses are sharp! The bride’s senses are tingling with the sensations of love, joy, and peace, and she is exhilarated and ready to go…not just sometime, but— “Let us get up early!”

It was early in the morning when Abraham rose up for his ultimately difficult job of sacrificing Isaac (Genesis 22:3). It was early in the morning when Jacob took a stone pillow and built his first altar to the Lord (Genesis 28:18). It was early in the morning when Moses went before Pharaoh (Exodus 8:20) and when he climbed Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34:4). It was early in the morning when Joshua and the children of Israel camped at Shittim before passing over the mighty Jordan River (Joshua 3:1). It was early when Samuel’s parents worshiped the Lord (I Samuel 1:9)…early when Saul was anointed and sent away (I Samuel 9:6)…early when Job prayed for his children (Job 1:5)…when David went to the battlefield and slew the fearful giant Goliath (I Samuel 17:20)…, and when Hezekiah led all the people in a great revival and restored worship in the temple (2 Chronicles 29:20).  Much of the most earnest work—the most difficult jobs—are accomplished early in the morning. Solomon’s father, King David, cried, “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is” (Psalm 63:1). “Oh satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). Indeed, it was King Solomon who penned the response of wisdom: “I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me”(Proverbs 8:17).

I wonder, could Solomon have had such a thought on his mind as he heard his beloved bride exclaim, “Let us get up early to the vineyards!” Did he indeed think to himself, “I love her, and now she loves me… and I love her even more for loving me. I sought her, and now she is seeking me…and I will let her learn more of me because she wants so desperately to be a part of everything I am and do.”

I wonder, do we seek the Lord early and desperately…our souls thirsting for him as the deer pants for the water brook? Are we willing—even so eager that we do the inviting—to rise up early and be about our bridegroom’s business? In the New Testament, there is one last ultimately significant occurrence of someone rising early in the morning: our Lord Jesus Christ at his resurrection! Mark 16:9-10 relates, “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.”

Jesus was up and about his Father’s business early in the morning, and what was he doing? Tenderly comforting and strengthening his own; working in his Father’s vineyard. Oh, Lord, please give us such passion that we wake up with joy in our hearts, a spring in our step, and a song of praise on our lips…eager to be about our beloved’s business!

(Not that you’re interested, but the first photo was taken at sunrise just outside my window through the woods a few years ago, and I took the other on a foggy morning along the Danube River.)

Salmon with Spinach and Artichokes

Last Saturday I mentioned Chuck’s trick of combining favorites from your fridge for a new twist, and here’s what happened when I followed my own advice! If you love grilled salmon and guacamole as much as I do, try this sometime:

  1. Prepare some wonderful, homemade guacamole. (If you don’t have a a recipe, you can try mine, found here: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2017/02/04/an-avocado-boat-of-ideas-especially-fantastic-guacamole-with-an-orange-twist/
  2. Grill your salmon (about 4-8 oz per serving, grilled 2-3 minutes per side) with your favorite spices. (I like fresh-squeezed lemon juice, Italian dressing, sea salt, Lawry’s seasoning salt, and lots of pepper, but that’s just me.)
  3. Prepare your veggies while the fish is grilling. (You’ll probably need to assemble all the items so the cooking time is just 5-6 minutes.) This includes:
    1. 1 chopped onion (this recipe will serve 4-6) sauteed in 2 tablespoons of butter until nicely browned. Add
    2. 6 oz fried, chopped bacon (optional but good if you eat pork; you can also fry this with the onion and cut the bacon in pieces after it’s crisp, but that takes an additional 5+ minutes, so cook it before you start the fish)
    3. 1 can quartered artichoke hearts (drained)
    4. 8 oz. cherry tomatoes (sliced in half)
    5. Add 1 tablespoon of fresh, pressed garlic, 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped basil, 1 teaspoon dried (or fresh) oregano
    6. 1 large bag (about 16 oz) spinach, added last and cooked just until tender and starting to deepen in color
    7. Add salt and pepper to taste (and do taste it to make sure it has enough sparkle!)
  4. Arrange the veggies evenly on the plates, add the salmon, and crown with a scoop of guacamole. Serve immediately. It’s especially good with fresh fruit and rolls, although I didn’t remember to take a photo of the entire ensemble. Pretty much guaranteed to please anyone who likes the individual ingredients.  🙂

But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this? In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind. Doth not the ear try words? and the mouth taste his meat? With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding. With him is wisdom and strength, he hath counsel and understanding. (Job 12:6-13)

When God’s Messiah Going to Come to Earth?

A gentleman was discussing my thoughts on taking Genesis 1 literally and said that I’d best be careful, or pretty soon I’d be trying to figure out on what day the Lord is going to return. Obviously, the Bible says that no will know the exact time, but another friend sent me this fascinating video. It’s only 11 minutes long. I’d love to have you watch it and let me know what you think! Thanks.  🙂

 “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour
wherein the Son of man cometh
” (Matthew 25:13).

Poetry from Job and Vistas of the Grand Canyon

Job is often thought to be the oldest book in the Bible. Have you ever read it? It’s full of flowery speeches about why men suffer, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson called it “the greatest poem of ancient and modern times.” Job is also listed as one of the twenty-five righteous prophets in the Quran, so his fame extends throughout the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim worlds.  What I love best about Job is that we know from the beginning Job’s suffering was not because he was evil. In fact, he was one of the world’s most upright men! Although it’s true we usually think of people as prospering if they are honest and work hard, from Job we learn that this is not always the case, and that some of the finest and best people suffer despite having sterling character.  In the end, God proclaims that He alone is the all-wise, all-knowing One, and Job’s mouth is stopped. But, during his trial,  Job receives a revelation so beautiful that Handel incorporated some of it into his timeless oratorio, Messiah: “Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!  That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:23-26).  The Bible advises us to live with compassion and respect toward all men. We have no idea what their lives have been like. Great advice, don’t you think?

Anyway, my son Jon brought home about 2,500 photos from his trip white-water rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and as I was thinking about what he’d learned and the beauty of this unique area, the words of Job 38 came to me. I thought they might be perfect paired with some of God’s creative magnificence and mystery, as recorded by Jon in July:

1Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,  Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?  Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee,  and answer thou me.  Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?  declare, if thou hast understanding.  Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest?  or who hath stretched the line upon it?  Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened?  or who laid the corner stone thereof;  When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?  Or who shut up the sea with doors,  when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?  When I made the cloud the garment thereof,  and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it,  10 And brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors,  11 And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further:  and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?  12 Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days;  and caused the dayspring to know his place;  13 That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,  that the wicked might be shaken out of it?  14 It is turned as clay to the seal; and they stand as a garment.  15 And from the wicked their light is withholden,  and the high arm shall be broken.  16 Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea?  or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?  17 Have the gates of death been opened unto thee?  or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?  18 Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all.  19 Where is the way where light dwelleth?  and as for darkness, where is the place thereof,  20 That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof, and that thou shouldest know the paths to the house thereof?  21 Knowest thou it, because thou wast then born?  or because the number of thy days is great?  22 Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?  or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail,  23 Which I have reserved against the time of trouble,
against the day of battle and war?  
24 By what way is the light parted, 
which scattereth the east wind upon the earth? 
25 Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters,
or a way for the lightning of thunder; 
26 To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness,  wherein there is no man;  27 To satisfy the desolate and waste ground;  and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth?  28 Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew?  29 Out of whose womb came the ice?  and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?  30 The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.  31 Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?  32 Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season?
or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons? 
33 Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven?  canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?  34 Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds,
that abundance of waters may cover thee? 
35 Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go and say unto thee, Here we are?  36 Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts?
or who hath given understanding to the heart? 
37 Who can number the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven,  38 When the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together?  39 Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the appetite of the young lions,  40 When they couch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait?  41 Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God,  they wander for lack of meat.” 

This eloquent reminder of human limitation goes on for several more chapters, but chapter 42 records Job’s response: “Then Job answered the Lord, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not…I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

That’s where I’m at. I have surrendered to God’s ineffable wisdom
and acknowledge that even though I don’t understand his ways, I trust Him. As Job said, “Thou he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).

(Photo Credits: Images related to Job from Wiki; all other photos were taken by Dr. Jonathan Armstrong in July, 2017, except the winter, aerial views, which I took last January, 2017.)