Lovely Ludington: My Favorite Lower Michigan State Park

If you live in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, and you’re looking for something really special to do on a weekend, consider visiting Ludington State Park.  We went camping there last weekend, but frankly, if you want to camp at one of their 350+ sites (plus 10 more for backpackers),  you need to get your reservations about 6 months in advance, because the campgrounds fill up soooo fast! Still, it’s a great place to visit, if only for the day.                                                   What makes it so special?                             Well, its beauty, its size, and its variety for starters.  Ludington State Park encompasses 5,300 acres of forest, sand dunes, and water,       including a two-mile stretch of Lake Michigan’s pristine, sandy shoreline.  There are over 21 miles of marked hiking trails (also cross-country skiing, canoeing, and bike trails, including some lovely paved pathways that are handicap accessible). In summer, Lake Michigan waves and fresh water make for refreshing swimming, and if it’s too bracing for your taste, Lake Hamlin is usually warmer and appeals to swimmers and boaters. (This photo was taken last summer.) Although it was too cold this past weekend, hot days are also perfect for tubing down the Big Sable River to Lake Michigan.               There is always a lot of wildlife, including good fishing! We saw deer (can you see the doe peeking out?), wild turkeys, a big, fat racoon (who scared some neighboring campers), and many colorful birds.  The campsites are heavy with the scent of pines and the comforting sounds of water and birds. When I closed my eyes, I had to think twice. Was this real, or was it just a new recording of music for relaxation?  Thankfully, at Ludington State Park, the soothing sounds of nature are real! Do you have any recordings of music meant to help you relax? We do, and we love them! Distant thunder, dripping rain, waves lapping and rolling, the haunting melody of the evening thrush…spring peepers. Of everything that is music to my ears, I think the sound that lulls me to sleep most peacefully is that still, small voice within me—God’s Holy Spirit—singing to me I am loved by God. He loves you too! I hope you know that and find peace and rest in His love!

The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

Sammy: Love From a Two-Year-Old

It’s been an entire month since I mentioned anything about “our” new baby in the family here in GR, but something so touching happened yesterday that I wanted to share it with you! As any of you who have children know, parenting isn’t for sissies. I have vivid memories of crazy-tired nights rocking and nursing babies, feeling dazed and totally unsure of how I’d survive the next day on so little sleep. It was in those middle-of-the-night hours that my faith became like bedrock in my soul, because as I poured out my heart to God, crying for help, I would find that He did answer. It wasn’t the power of positive thinking, and it wasn’t magic; it was mercy and grace. In the morning, I would imagine myself grabbing my machete and chopping again…trying to cut a swathe through the dry savanna grass (which was always higher than my head) so my children and I could walk on a path…The path! God is faithful.

I didn’t know sometimes from day to day if we’d survive, but we did, and I took that as a miracle. Frankly, I believe every child who grows to adulthood as a relatively healthy, spiritually and emotionally intact person is an answer to prayer and a miracle of God’s grace!

In that light, as I read my daughter-in-law’s Facebook post today, tears of thankfulness sprang to my eyes. With her permission, I’d like to share what she wrote:“There are many moments lately where life feels crazy-busy or just sort of crazy. I have come face-to-face with the reality of my own sin nature and with my inability to be a ‘perfect’ parent more times than I realized I would. So, I was having a brief moment of personal crisis today (not really… just a few quiet tears) over lack of sleep and two needy children when the Lord gave me a sweet gift through Mr. Samuel.  “Samuel was tired and having a moment of his own crisis of toddler-proportion when I brought him upstairs to try to get him to nap. While walking him around in my arms and feeling frustrated that he wasn’t sleeping, Elanor started crying with fervor. I realized that if I put Samuel down he would likely give up on napping and possibly get upset that he had lost my attention. But Samuel instead pointed at Elanor and said, ‘Sis. Feed milk.’ So I set Samuel down to take care of the baby while he contentedly played. Soon afterward Samuel told me, ‘Down. Eat, Mommy.’ After asking him, I realized he wanted me to go downstairs to feed myself. I was incredibly touched that my two-year-old would both be perceptive and giving enough to reflect God’s love in that small act.  “Crisis averted for the time being. 😉 No, he didn’t nap. Yes, food makes us more pleasant people. But especially, what an encouragement to watch my son demonstrate love.”

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly,
since love covers a multitude of sins
” (1 Peter 4:8, ESV).

Telling Stories Around the Campfire

Last weekend we went camping at Ludington State Park, and I found myself fascinated by watching the flames leaping in our fire pit.  One moment, I could just imagine an angel praying (see the cross at the top?!),  and at the next I could see a hungry lion rearing his head for a mighty roar!  It reminded me the 1960s when I was in graduate school studying clinical psychology, training to give the Rorschach, which was the most widely used projective test at that time. Have you ever taken one? It was developed by a Swiss psychologist, Hermann Rorschach, and consisted of a series of black and white ink blots on cards which the client was supposed to interpret. What do you see here? I see a surprised dragon with fire coming out his nostrils.  How about this one? To me, there’s a genie emerging from the flames. How about this one? On the far left, do you see a scary yellow and orange face with a triangular eye and oblong mouth, or do you notice more the white image in front of the face that looks like a horned women with her hands on her hips? Or …close to the right can you see a scowling lizard-like creature with a beaked nose, white-tipped horns and a long, white eye?  There are so many ways of interpreting what we see, aren’t there? As we sat around the fire, we decided to share stories. I can see why “ghost” stories are popular with campers, because the flames leap and flicker, creating eerie shapes that more often than not do conjure up images of ghosts or goblins.However, we chose to share stories from our past, and it was really fun! Alan told about his Uncle Bud having an entire room full of tennis shoes folks could borrow so they wouldn’t hurt their feet on the pebbly lake bottom when they went swimming. Joel shared the glorious sights and sounds he remembered from hiking the White Mountains with his housemates when he lived in Boston.  I reminisced about spending the night with my childhood best friend, Brenda, and her grandparents, “Ma and Pa,” at their cottage on the St. Mary’s River. I loved waking up in the morning with the smell of Ma cooking breakfast and Pa sitting at the kitchen table, reading his Bible and praying. Brenda whispered to me that when Pa was young, he’d been involved with Al Capone, but by the time I knew him, he had become a Christian and was the picture of everything I’d always wished for in a grandpa! (Both my grandfathers died before I was born.)              Of course, after the fire has burned down to glowing embers,  there’s nothing so fun as roasting hot dogs…unless it’s toasting marshmallows! Just like leaping flames or ink blot images, we each take what we see and try to make sense of it, don’t we? I think the same goes for stories. Some stories are written with the morals obvious, like Aesop’s fables, but most of the time, we take in the stories and then try to figure out what they mean to us.Do you have a favorite story? My very favorite “story” (if you will, although it’s a true story) comes from the Bible. It tells about Jesus and how he came to rescue us from our sins. Have you heard that story? Have you figured out what it means to you? Although affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground; Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward. I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause” (Job 5:6-8).

“Tell Me the Story of Jesus” (~Fanny Crosby, 1880)

  1. Tell me the story of Jesus,
    Write on my heart every word;
    Tell me the story most precious,
    Sweetest that ever was heard.
    Tell how the angels in chorus,
    Sang as they welcomed His birth,
    “Glory to God in the highest!
    Peace and good tidings to earth.”
  2. Fasting alone in the desert,
    Tell of the days that are past,
    How for our sins He was tempted,
    Yet was triumphant at last.
    Tell of the years of His labor,
    Tell of the sorrow He bore;
    He was despised and afflicted,
    Homeless, rejected and poor.
  3. Tell of the cross where they nailed Him,
    Writhing in anguish and pain;
    Tell of the grave where they laid Him,
    Tell how He liveth again.
    Love in that story so tender,
    Clearer than ever I see;
    Stay, let me weep while you whisper,
    “Love paid the ransom for me.”
  4. Tell how He’s gone back to heaven,
    Up to the right hand of God:
    How He is there interceding
    While on this earth we must trod.
    Tell of the sweet Holy Spirit
    He has poured out from above;
    Tell how He’s coming in glory
    For all the saints of His love.
  5. (Refrain):
    Tell me the story of Jesus,
    Write on my heart every word;
    Tell me the story most precious,
    Sweetest that ever was heard.

 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
(1 Timothy 2:5-6)
 

Would You Like to be Like the Men Who Built America?

After our visit to the Biltmore Estate, I wanted to learn more about the Vanderbilt family, and I discovered a really fascinating (but gut-wrenching) 5-hour historical documentary mini series from 2012 called The Men Who Built America. The series has an 8.7 rating on IMDb, won a lot of awards, and is really worth watching, if for no other reason than to inspire you to avoid oppressing those who are under you, in the work space…or anywhere else, for that matter!The Men Who Built America traces the transformation of America from the post Civil War Era to World War 1, focusing in particular on the lives of four incredibly driven, innovative, and wealthy men: Cornelius Vanderbilt (who connected America via ships and railroads),  Andrew Carnegie (who developed the steel industry, opening the way for bridges, skyscrapers and city scapes not only in America but throughout the world, making him one of the richest men on earth),  John D. Rockerfeller (who founded Standard Oil and holds the record for  being the richest man who’s ever lived, with a net worth of 392 billion [adjusted for inflation], and  John P. Morgan (wizard of corporate finance and industrial consolidation in America).  At the end, the series also touched on the life of Henry Ford (founder of Ford Motor Company who developed the assembly line technique for mass production). I was mesmerized and horrified at the same time. The first four men were innovative geniuses who worked ceaselessly to build industrial empires. Their work did profit America as a whole, but they were also ruthless cut throats who became incomprehensible rich by oppressing the poor laborers who worked for them.  Although they became amazing philanthropists near the end of their lives, I found myself feeling frustrated and outraged by their abuse of power. Why didn’t they share their wealth with the thousands (millions?) who worked for them?  In stark contrast, Henry Ford paid his employees about 2.5 times the going wage, provided safe working conditions, and established the 5-day, 40-hour work week. Ford still became plenty rich, but he was so much better as an employer! As the stories unfolded, it occurred to me that the richest men were so busy competing with each other and oppressing everyone that it didn’t even seem like they were enjoying their lives. Today is no different! If every business owner paid their employees a living wage and shared profits more equitably, they could still be wealthy enough to enjoy an abundant life while providing abundant lives for their employees too. How is it that as a nation we’re so consumed by greed?  Can we change the men who are building America now? Can we do better, one employer at a time??? As a nation, can we vote in legislation that provides a living wage for every employee who works a 40-hour week?

Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity. Trust not in oppression, and become not vain in robbery: if riches increase, set not your heart upon them” (Psalm 62:9-10).

Lessons from Louise’s Kitchen

In Black Mountain, North Carolina,
there’s a perfectly adorable breakfast spot known as Louise’s Kitchen. It has a lot of things that make it unique: five-inch sections of fettuccine that they use for stirring your coffee…playing cards to designate your order number…inspirational thoughts to brighten your day…a pick-your-own, self-serve beverage counter, and a great menu with great prices for food with flair!  It’s a hit with everybody, and the place was jammed by the time we left.(So come early if you don’t want to have to wait!)  I was luxuriating in the ambience and yummy food,  when I noticed that our waitress looked like she might have a hard life, but she was an absolutely stellar waitress, and her genuine warmth really attracted me.  She was (IS) obviously an over-comer, and it didn’t take long to figure out why! Thank you, dear waitress, for letting your light shine! The world needs you!

Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life” (Philippians 2:14-16).

“This Little Light of Mine”

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Hide it under a bushel, no!
I’m gonna let it shine
Hide it under a bushel, no!
I’m gonna let it shine,
Hide it under a bushel, no!
I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine

Don’t let Satan blow it out
I’m gonna let it shine
Don’t let Satan blow it out
I’m gonna let it shine
Don’t let Satan blow it out
I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Let it shine til Jesus comes
I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine til Jesus comes
I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine til Jesus comes
I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine?”

(All photos from Louise’s Kitchen in Black Mountain, North Carolina)

Rise Up, My Love (235): The Foreshadowing of Spiritual Union

Song of Solomon 7:6 “How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights!” Verse six is the pivotal point in this one particular ode. It is as if the husband concludes his observations with a final seal of approving commendation that also transitions him from simply observing her beauties (verses 1-5)…to beginning to remember the pleasure of experiencing them (verse 6)…to declaring that he will enjoy them again (verses 7-8).

And here, perhaps it would be good to sit and rest a while, savoring this verse as the groom reflected on thoughts of his wife. Synonyms from other translations and commentators describing the husband’s feelings for his wife provide much room for meditation: “How beautiful; how entrancing; how charming; how pleasing.” “Good.” “Gracious.” “Delectable maiden, with your delights.” “Daughter of delights.” “My delight”… “soft, delicate, delightful, luxurious…”  Last June our family just picked cherries from a neighboring orchard…sweet black cherries, sun-sweetened at the tops of the trees. Some years we’re able to harvest big handfuls just by standing on the ground, but last year we had to climb way up high on very tall ladders in order to find many cherries. But…oh, how sweet! This verse is like those wonderful, hard-to-come–by cherries, so stop to taste each one as if it were a plump fruit. Indeed, biting into each adjective gives a spurt of spiritual sweetness like cherry juice!   Go back and read the list again slowly, meditating on each with the understanding that this is the way our Heavenly Lover feels about us as his bride! Truly? Does my Lord find my spiritual openness and submission to him as beautiful… entrancing… delectable?? Wow! It seems unimaginable that I can bring such pleasure to my Lord!

The other thing that may take some mental and spiritual energy is understanding and appropriating the distinctly physical nature of this verse. Although many verses in The Song of Solomon are hotly contested, this verse is unanimously agreed upon: It is a direct reference to the delights of lovemaking. Frankly, to many people, sex is an embarrassing, uncomfortable subject. Young children, especially, sometimes express concern that the whole idea seems “yucky.”  Can you remember when you first heard about sex? I’ll never forget the first time it was explained to me. I was twelve and had just recently become a Christian when my older sister sat down and told me the story behind “the birds and the bees.” My first thought was, “How awful! I’m sure my Sunday school teacher (who was also my spiritual mother and mentor) would never do that!” My husband remembers (at about the same age: prepubescent) thinking a girl’s body seemed “gross.”

These are probably not atypical responses. We are taught our whole lives to be modest and “keep your hands off!” All of a sudden we’re told that within marriage two people are to become totally uninhibited, that our bodies are nothing to be ashamed of or kept hidden, and that loving “hands on” is good, not bad. How does one make the transition?   As with so much of life, I think it is something that must be accepted and acted upon by faith. Our world is so tainted by pornography and sexually perverse practices that sex has become a commonplace topic with a terrible reputation. The wonders of a happy marital relationship are not put on public display; they are sacred and private, and parents don’t usually discuss sexual issues with young children lest they be defrauded (except as they need instruction for their own protection and safety).

However, the world seems to think of nothing else. Immoral sexual behavior is so much in the news and gossip that sex seems synonymous with sin. From the whispers and snickers and innuendoes that all children and young people are inevitably exposed to in our culture, “sinless sex” seems like an oxymoron, and the ideas of purity and privilege simply aren’t championed. Nevertheless, the teaching of the Bible is clear that “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4).

As an innocent young person, the idea of the purity of sex within marriage needs to be accepted by faith. However, just as usually happens in the experience of salvation…appropriate emotions generally follow. In fact, the usual pattern is that maintaining sexual purity before marriage becomes one of a young person’s greatest challenges. Once people mature and fall in love, by some “magic,” their attitudes towards the physical closeness that leads to intercourse radically change, and the desire to become one rather than two becomes an overwhelming passion if not severely restrained by “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).   Even so, by some sacred mystery, the pure passion of Christ to make us one with him, even as he is one with the Father (John 17), is a spiritual truth that we accept by faith and mature into as we grow up in Christ…learning at first by shadows and types and visions through dark looking glasses…but which will someday become our sole passion when we behold him face to face. This is not a physical experience; it is a spiritual experience…something that far exceeds but is only mysteriously suggested by physical union.

Easy Caramel Sauce for Dipping Fruit

Serving fresh fruit for dessert in the summer is one of the best ways I can think of to promote healthy nutrition while still catering to the sweet teeth most of us inherited through no fault of our own but as part of our DNA. (Okay, so it’s really a learned behavior, but most of us have learned very well.) One way to dress up fruit for a special occasion is by serving dipping sauce. Melted chocolate or caramel are probably the two favorites.  A simple way to make caramel sauce is to boil together 1/4 cup milk, 1/2 cup butter, and 1 cup brown sugar (packed) for just a few minutes until the sugar completely dissolves and the sauce thickens. (This serves 4-8.)        An even easier way to serve one person is to place 9 caramels in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of milk or cream, and pop it in the microwave for a 45 seconds. Stir vigorously until smooth, and serve immediately! It goes great with apples, pears, and bananas…and probably any other type of fruit you like! Did I mention ice cream? No? That’s good, because even though it’s great on ice cream, that’s probably too fattening!

 My son, eat thou honey, because it is good; and the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste: So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul: when thou hast found it, then there shall be a reward, and thy expectation shall not be cut off” (Proverbs 24:13-14).