Rise Up, My Love (278): Beautiful Beyond Description

Song of Solomon 8:9 “If she be a wall…” Let’s take a sanctified flight into imagination and try to picture ourselves as a wall that God is building. I only know of one wall God is building that is pictured for us in Scripture, and it’s the wall around the new Jerusalem. I’m going to imagine that you and I are like that beautiful city. As an apologetic for our imagineering, consider the passage in Revelation 21:9-10 where an angel tells Paul, “I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife,” and then carries Paul away in the spirit and shows him “the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.”

I think it’s fair to imagine ourselves as being a wall and a city that God is building for his glory. Also, he says “we are his workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10), and we “are the temple of the Living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16). In I Peter 2 we are taught that each of us is a “living stone…chosen of God, and precious,” to build up a spiritual house on the cornerstone, which is Christ, as we learn again in Ephesians 2:20-22: “Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”

So, let’s look at this wall and city. First, what is its foundation? Let’s look at the third chapter of I Corinthians for a minute. “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (3:11). “But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon” (3:10) We should build upon this foundation with spiritual gold, silver, and precious stones, because those things will pass the test of fire (3:12-15).

In Revelation 21 the city is described as unbelievably beautiful. There are twelve foundations of the wall, each made of a precious stone such as sapphire, emerald, and amethyst, and the entire foundation is garnished with a dazzling array of precious stones. The wall itself is made of clear crystal, and it has twelve gates with each door being made from a single immense pearl. The streets are paved with pure, transparent gold, and the entire city is radiant with the light of the glory of God.

Wow! I know Proverbs teaches us that a virtuous wife is worth more than rubies, but how could I ever be as beautiful as the New Jerusalem? Can you imagine a person that magnificent? I was shocked to realize that I think a city made of gold and gems would be more beautiful than a person could ever be. Does that mean at heart I value money above people? Hopefully not, although it definitely means my spiritual vision needs sharpening. I wouldn’t trade Jesus or those I love for any amount of money; they are much too precious to me…but are they more beautiful?

Perhaps it is the yearning for perfection that makes us think of gold and gems as being more perfect in beauty. But, in fact, we will be perfect and without defect when we are united to Christ as His bride! What will we look like in our perfect, glorified bodies? What does Jesus look like? My feeble imagination is too limited to visualize what he truly looks like. My heart echoes the songwriter and pastor, Mark Altrogge:

“You are beautiful beyond description, too marvelous for words,
Too wonderful for comprehension, like nothing ever seen or heard.
Who can grasp Your infinite wisdom? Who can fathom the depths of Your love? You are beautiful beyond description, majesty enthroned above.
And I stand, I stand in awe of You. I stand, I stand in awe of You.
Precious God, to whom all praise is due, I stand in awe of You.”

Although it’s beyond us to comprehend what he truly looks like, like the Apostle John, we can “know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” (I John 3:2-3). Beloved, may we keep bathing ourselves in the Fountain of Life to find cleansing, healing, and purification so that we will become more perfect in beauty to our beautiful Savior!

Corned Beef and Cabbage: Traditional St. Patrick’s Day Dinner

Many of us with a little Irish heritage like to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day every March 17th with a special dinner of Corned Beef and Cabbage, which we’ve grown up believing is a very traditional Irish dinner. (However, my daughter-in-law, Gerlinde, who grew up in Germany but with an Irish mother, had never eaten it before I served it the other night, so perhaps it’s not as traditional as I thought! 🙂  )   Nevertheless, it’s become quite traditional in America—from the East Coast to Hawaii—so I thought this might be a good week to publish our home brew in time for St. Patrick’s Day.  Corned beef can be roasted in oven and is great when smothered with caramelized onions.  However, the most common method is to boil it.  Some folks prefer throwing out the salty broth for fear of preservatives  (check with  your local butcher to see how it’s been brined if you’re concerned), but corned beef can be made simply by being heavily salted and isn’t necessarily full of other preservatives.  Personally, the old-fashioned stew is our family favorite:

St. Patrick’s Traditional Corn Beef and Cabbage Stew
(Serves 6-10, depending on how many children or adults you’re serving!)

2.5 to 3 pound corned beef brisket (with a packet of seasonings)  Add the packet of seasonings and  bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 2 hours (or use an instant pot for a much shorter period of time). You can drain the water off at that point and refill the pan until the corned beef is covered again (which I don’t personally do). Either way, the next step is to add veggies:6-10 potatoes
1 pound carrots
3-6 whole onions
1 cabbage chopped into 6-10 chunks
Then, add more seasonings (whether or not you’ve drained the water and refilled the pan):
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Lawry Seasoning Salt
1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 teaspoon parsley
2 bay leaves
(If you drained the water, add another teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon dill seed)
Bring to a boil again and simmer for another hour. If you have some fresh bread and  butter to go along with it, you’ve got a hearty meal fit for any Irish American …or probably anybody else. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you!  🙂

“For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth” (Isaiah 38:18-19).

How Would You Like a Beautiful Mink Coat?

We have an adorable little mink who’s taken up residence at our cottage, and I love to see him skittering everywhere, but he hardly ever stops long enough for me to take a clear photo. I always admire his gorgeous fur coat!Do you have a favorite place to shop for clothes? Mine is Goodwill. Oh, I do shop sometimes in other stores, particularly if we’re traveling where the prices are great and the styles unique, but for every day staples, I’d rather let someone else pay 10 times as much to wear their new outfit a few times before getting tired of it. Usually nothing I buy costs more than $3.50, and sometimes the item still has tags on it. Pretty hard to beat! My all-time favorite purchase from a second-hand shop was a lovely fur coat, which did cost more than $3.50 but less than $100. I just looked online at Sax Fifth Avenue, where they’ll give you a mink coat if you’ll give them $10,141.00, so I figured I got mine at a 99% discount. All winter long, our mink runs across the waterfront and dives into a hole under our dock, where I suppose he’s ice fishing, but this morning he was out enjoying the early spring sunshine, so he spent a few extra minutes on top of the dock.I remembered my son Joel telling me at the breakfast table that he’s reading a new book called Being a Beast by Charles Foster—a veterinary surgeon, London barrister and teacher of medical law and ethics at the University of Oxford.  In trying to understand what it feels like to be a beast, Foster attempted living like various animals, and his book relates what he’s learned from this unique experiment.  I’d probably never spend weeks underground eating earthworms the way Charles Foster did, but I can definitely identify with how lovely it would be to have a warm fur coat, especially if you’re going to jump into ice cold water!As humans, I don’t think we’ll ever fully understand what it’s like to be a beast…or to be God, for that matter! We’re greatly limited by our intellectual capacities. We don’t know much about communicating with animals or God! However, unlike animals, God has given us a revelation about himself in the  Bible. If we want to know more about God, we can start by reading his book! Right at the beginning of the Bible, we learn that humans chose to disobey God and tried to cut off communication by hiding. But guess what? Instead of getting angry, God loved them and made provisions for them: Beautiful fur coats!  Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). In the New Testament, we learn that God still loves us—every one of his created human beings! God longs to communicate with us and is still providing for us: But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).                            That’s not exactly a beautiful mink coat, but it’s even better!   Not just a covering for our skin, but a covering for our sin! Will you accept it?I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).

A Crab in the Hand is Actually Safer Than Two in the Sand

We spent a few days with my son Michael’s family at Cocoa Beach not long ago. It was warm enough to swim, which we all did,  and surf (which only Michael and Grace did),  but we also spent a lot of time walking and playing along the seashore.The kids collected sea shells and took turns burying each other in the sand…pretending to be mermaids!  While Mom and Dad went for a long jaunt down the beach,there was some serious sand castle building going on with Nana,and the girls made a race car to take their little brothers for a ride.

For whatever reason (perhaps our deep-seated fascination with living things), I think the highlight of the day was chasing sand crabs, who like to hide themselves in little holes near the high tide edge of the shore. Michael is an expert at catching them, and the kids are always enthralled to see him work with such energy and focus until he finally manages to capture a little creature. The kids are fascinated, but Michael always protects the sand crab so he isn’t hurt by curious little hands, and I’m touched that the crab backs up against Michael’s hand, sensing that he’s “safe” there…which he is! I thought about how the little crab wanted to be free and tried so hard to hide, although he really was completely safe with Michael and eventually relaxed and “hid” in the shelter of his hands. Actually, as long as he was with Michael, he was doubtless even safer than off on his own trying to escape the shore birds and dodge the incoming tide, but Michael knew the crab would rather be free, and so he let him go, and away he scurried, back to his cave in the sand. I’m like that little crab! People are like little crabs. We want to be free to run and play, but we also have to run from trouble and spend way too much time in dark, dank caves! When the Master finds us and tucks us into his hand, we can try to run away, but we’re really much better off recognizing that we’re safe with him. We can back right up against his big hand and rest, sheltered in the shadow of his care.  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27-29).

See It, Touch It, Hold It…Including Snappy the Alligator?!

During the first Christmas my oldest was able to toddle around, he kept asking for permission to “see” then “touch” then “hold” the Christmas ornaments. Unfortunately, he was too young to hold an ornament for very long before it would fall, and if I wasn’t right there to catch the bulb, it would break.

So, in our home, the line went, “See it? Hold it? Touch it? Break it!”
But, don’t we all love to get our hands on things we’re curious about?I think we all have a fascination with holding things that fill us with awe—whether it’s a shiny Christmas ornament or an exotic living creature. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what can be touched and what to avoid! In Tunisia, the zookeeper seemed fearless and knew just how to hold a scorpion while the scorpion held on tight to a pack of cigarettes, but none of us dared try! He also knew how to handle a deadly sidewinder… but nobody wanted to try that one, either! Of course, some critters seem more cuddly,
and those we’d like to touch as well as see. In fact, when it comes to camels, I like to ride them too! A well trained camel can take you for a pleasant ride down the streets in India. A well-trained elephant will let you pet him in the jungles of Nepal, or let you go for a ride (only with his mahout aboard, however!) Baby elephants are something else, though!  They’re 250-pound characters who love to push you around if they can!!I only dared touch this little playmate while he was distracted by someone else! Many creatures look almost irresistibly cuddly, like these monkeys,  but monkeys are pickpockets with nasty bites, so I’ve been trained to keep my distance lest I lose my camera…or worse! Over the years, I’ve been able to see and hold many different creatures,  but on our trip through the Panama Canal,
I got to hold a baby alligator named Snappy.  Snappy has been handled by this park ranger since his birth,
and he’s quite friendly…as long as you don’t put your face next to his mouth.

Alligators have a brain about as big as a pea, so most of what they do is instinctive. Nevertheless, we were back in America, so I figured they wouldn’t let us hold him unless it was relatively safe, and when they asked who would like to hold Snappy, I volunteered. Yes, being in America, they made it quite safe! Although the ranger hadn’t forewarned us, he put a big strap around Snappy’s mouth to keep him quiet. He was totally docile and let me hold him by his soft underbelly. Holding living creatures touches something deep inside me…a trust given to me to hold without hurting…not to break…and hopefully not to get hurt either. As we go through life, I hope we continue learning what is safe and what is not…       and just how close we can get to others without asking for trouble!    But I hope we keep exploring and trying to connect,  not only with critters,  but with people! There’s a huge world out there full of people who’ve never heard the good news that Jesus came to set us free from sin and give us eternal life!                       Can we hold them so gently that we don’t hurt them?

Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:1-7).

Rise Up, My Love (277): What’s in a Wall?

Song of Solomon 8:9. “If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver: and if she be a door, we will inclose her with boards of cedar.” Let’s start with just the first thought: “If she be a wall…” What does it mean to be a wall? In the next verse, the bride declares that she herself is a “wall” with “towers,” which won her a place of favor in her husband’s eyes, so we can assume the couple felt that being a wall was a good thing. So, what is a wall, literally and metaphorically?

Literally, a wall is a structure that gives definition; it sets boundaries and limits; it protects. I’ve read that in ancient times, building a wall was the first step toward building a city, since walls were necessary for protection against wild beasts and foreign invaders. It was only after the walls came crashing down that the Israelites were able to successfully conquer Jericho (Joshua 6:5). When King Sennacherib led the Assyrians in a campaign against Israel, King Hezekiah immediately began his defense by building up the walls of Jerusalem: “He strengthened himself, and built up all the wall that was broken, and raised it up to the towers, and another wall without”(2 Chronicles 32:5). When Nehemiah was called to rebuild the ruins of Jerusalem, the first thing he did was rebuild the wall around the city (Nehemiah 12:27-32).

Metaphorically, a wall was used as a symbol of strength and security. David and his men were described as a protective “wall unto us both by night and day” while Nabal’s shepherds were out in the wild caring for their flocks (I Samuel 25:16). In Zachariah 2:5, the Lord promises that He will be “a wall of fire round about” Jerusalem to protect her from harm. In Proverbs 18:11 we are warned that a rich man will often fail to trust in the Lord for his help and mistakenly consider wealth as “his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit.”

Truly, are we any different today? How many of us are tempted to feel secure if we have stable jobs and a good income? I know that’s a natural tendency in me, and I have to keep reflecting on the truth that “the horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31). Virtually no one lives within a walled city any more, but I’ve seen lots of fence walls. In the vast tracts of tiny, hovel dwellings built on the garbage dumps of Agua Prieta, Mexico, I’ve seen fences around twenty-by-twenty foot compounds made out of bedsprings, trash, and cactus; in China I’ve seen walls with razor rolls on top and chunks of glass embedded in the concrete…all to keep people out.

And here in America, don’t we feel safer within the walls of our own home? I do! One of my dearest friends had a husband who always felt a huge sense of relief every night as he pulled into their driveway, so I gave him a plaque to hang on the wall of their garage right where he parked his car that read: Home Free! Isn’t that the way we feel? (At least, if our home is happy.)

Walls do protect and keep us safe…as long as we’re on the inside. However, if we’re on the outside of a wall trying to get in…well that’s another story! A wall that keeps strangers out makes us feel safe, but a wall that keeps us out can be terribly frustrating. Metaphorically, a wall is something that stops us from going any further. We speak of “hitting the wall” when we can’t go any further because we’re exhausted, being driven “up the wall” when we’re totally frustrated because we can’t reach our goal, and being “off the wall” when we’ve ceased being rational in the pursuit of our goal.

God made Jeremiah like “a fenced brasen wall” to the rebellious Israelites, “and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 15:20). God told Ezekiel to take an iron pan “and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city,” as a sign to Israel that God would not deliver them in the day of judgment because they refused to repent (Ezekiel 4:3). A wall sets limits. It can either work for us or against us, depending on who we are and what we want.

“If she be a wall…” Although this is the groom speaking of a younger sister, the bride later affirms that she is a wall, so as a spiritual exercise let’s consider these questions for ourselves: What kind of a wall am I? What walls have I erected in my life? Who or what am I keeping in and out of my life? Please ponder these questions right now, and if you happen to be reading with someone else, stop and talk about your thoughts together. Are you strong, straight, true, and able to protect? Are your wall boundaries what you want them to be? Are they effective? (If you know you have boundary problems [definitely a weak area for me], consider reading the New York Times bestseller, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend).

When I was in China, I walked along the top of the Great Wall one rainy day. People bobbed along under rainbow-colored umbrellas, and I could see out across a vast countryside of green and brown. The Great Wall is still one of the man-made wonders of the earth, but it is no longer used as a defensive boundary. Its main use today is as a romantically grand, pleasure walkway where millions of people come for refreshment every year.

What kind of a wall am I? What kind of wall are you? Oh, Lord, may we tear down any walls that we’ve attempted to make out of the trash and broken glass in our lives to keep you or others “at bay.” Help us to be straight, strong, and true to keep sin out of our lives, but not you or those you’ve created. Help us to be like a spiritual Great Wall: a display of your glory, but no longer a barrier to keep others out. May our hearts instead become a place where others may come to be strengthened, renewed, and refreshed. And, Lord, may we always take you as our wall of defense. Please be a wall of fire around us to keep us safely within your heart and will.

A friend of ours, Bob Hardee, sent this light-hearted photo after Alan and I had visited several castles in the U.K. with our two youngest. Truly, our homes are our “castles,” aren’t they? But, the real question is: How do we use the walls we’ve built?!

Herb Gardens and Succulent Cornish Hens with Rice

Sometimes when March hits, the weather seems like a fickle teenager…not sure whether to grow up and become Summer, or head back to the childhood of Winter. This dinner perfectly reflects that mood: Cornish hens, rice, and blueberry bran muffins hot from the oven, steamed broccolli in the middle, and a fresh veggie salad with strawberries and blueberries edged by honey dew melon. Winter to spring to summer, all on one plate. Are you in?One of the things I’ve done to keep up my spirits in the winter is tend a little herb garden on our (only) sunny window ledge. We have rosemary in an old tea pot (a great way to re-purpose a pot after the lid’s been broken too many times to mend any more), basil, parsley, rosemary, and sometimes chives or other herbs (depending on what I can find at the market), interspersed with various flowers and other greenery. This little kitchen garden also comes in handy when I’m cooking!

Succulent Cornish Hens with Jasmine Rice
(Feeds 4±)

Defrost 2 Cornish hens overnight or in the refrigerator until completely thawed. Pour 1.5  cups of water into the bottom of a roasting pan, and add:
1.25 cups of jasmine rice, making sure the rice is completely wet
Sprinkle over the hens and rice:
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon thyme
2 springs rosemary, somewhat chopped
1 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Lawry’s Seasoning salt (or your favorite brand)
1 teaspoon chives
If you have it, cut up several sprigs of fresh thyme and add them on top   Bake covered for 1.75 hours in an oven preheated to 350°F. Check to see if the chicken is completely cooked through. If it’s done but not golden, take off the lid and let it bake for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown on top.   Meanwhile, prepare whatever sides you want, and then serve it all up. This rice is softer than it would be if it were made in a cooker, but it absorbs all the juice from the hens, and I think the savory flavor makes up for the less than perfect consistency. You could also try adding the rice halfway through the roasting if you want it firmer (although I usually pop the whole thing in the oven on occasions when I’m going to be gone for several hours and can’t tend it too closely). Another variation is to add just one cup of water and a can of chunked pineapple with its juice…and/or hot peppers or one cup of salsa. There are lots of variations on this “Sunday dinner” roast, so experiment!

Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof.” (Psalm 65:10)