I Have Sixteen Going on Seventeen…It’s Time to Think Babies!

If you love The Sound of Music as much as I do, then there are probably times when some of the musical’s lyrics pop into your head, and that’s what’s been playing in my brain for the past nine months, ever since my daughter-in-law Grace told me that she was pregnant. “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” is the song, but with slightly altered lyrics, because Alan and I have sixteen beautiful grandchildren and are now looking forward to a seventeenth very soon! Mike and Grace are expecting their fifth baby at the end of July. Grace’s mom graduated to glory when Grace was a young teenager, so I’ve had the special privilege of being first on call when they have a new baby. This means I will have been to Philadelphia, Germany, Hawaii, South Korea, and now Italy in the last 11 years! I am overjoyed, but as you might guess, this also means I won’t have time to write much for awhile. If I don’t post, or if I just post a photo and a few lines, know that I’m in my glory enjoying some of life’s best moments and may not have much to say until after Labor Day. I mean, not only Grace’s day of labor, but America’s Labor Day, which is September 3. Meanwhile, God bless you! May you continue with joy on your pilgrimage through this world. I will be trying to follow Jesus. I hope that is your aspiration as well!

But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children;  To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them”(Psalm 103:17-18).

(P.S.—My son, “Major Michael Armstrong” is not the one with bells ringing over his head. This photo was taken by the wife of the guy with the smooch! My son is really the man on the extreme right side of the photo, and it was taken at a recent graduation from yet another training program which will qualify him for possible promotion.)

Have You Considered the Relationship Between Israel, the Church, and the Middle East?

Published just in time to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary, Darrel L. Bock and Mitch Glaser have collaborated as editors on a book explaining the current conflict in the Middle East from a biblical viewpoint. Written by theologians on both sides of the Atlantic in meticulously researched articles, the book walks us through the conflict step by step, explaining not only the historical background but the present situation and future prophetic promises concerning the role of Israel in the world: “God always intended to use the Jewish people as his bridge of redemption to a sinful and broken world” (Dr. Darrell Bock, 262).

As an evangelical Christian, I have always believed the Old Testament teaching that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people as an eternal inheritance. What I didn’t realize is that I am part of the 82% of white evangelicals who hold this position, but according to a Pew Research Center poll, less than half that many Jewish or Catholic Americans agree (187). I was a little amazed, but then it occurred to me that if you don’t believe the Bible, then of course you wouldn’t have any particular basis for believing the Jewish people have any right to an independent nation of their own. However, as recently as 2017, the FBI reported that Jewish people are subjected to more hate crimes than any other religious group in America, and the statistics aren’t much different in Europe (197). Even for those who don’t believe the Jewish people have a “right” to the land,  doesn’t it seem good that every group of moral, law-abiding people deserves to have a haven of refuge where they can “secure domestic tranquility,” just as we have in America?

I loved this quote from an AIPAC document, pointing out the shared values between America and Israel: “Both nations were founded by refugees seeking political and religious freedom. Both were forced to fight for independence against foreign powers. Both have absorbed waves of immigrants seeking political freedom and economic well-being. And, both have evolved into democracies that respect the rule of law, the will of voters and the rights of minorities.” Perhaps these common values are shared by many nations around the world, but I deeply appreciate being able to live in a land that enjoys democratic rule “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” and I am thankful for other countries that provide similar freedoms. As far as I know, Israel is probably the truest democracy in the Middle East. Would you agree?

Finally, the book is written from the perspective of God’s love for all, and I’d like to end with Mark Bailey’s conclusion: “If one is not careful, one will look through the colored lens of politics and end up despising either the Arabs or the Jews, or both. A proper gaze through a biblical lens will engender a genuine love for Palestinians, Arabs, Israelis, and Jews alike as people created in the image of God, the object of his love, and all viable candidates to receive the love of Christ through our proclamation of the Gospel message” (201).

By the way, if you’ve never read the Bible, and wonder why anybody thinks Israel “deserves” their own state, here are a few passages about God’s giving the land of Canaan (present day Israel) to Abraham (the “Father” of modern Jewish people).

Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).

And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee” (Genesis 13:14-17).

And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8).

Of course, Muslims and Jews both descended from Abraham, and this is part of the problem. I’m not sure if the Koran has anything to say about which land belongs to whom, but in the Bible, a distinction is made between Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael (via Hagar, progenitor of the Muslims) and Isaac (via Abraham’s wife, Sarah, progenitor of the Jews):

 And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee! And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year” (Genesis 17:15-21).

 

 

Rise Up, My Love (295): Learning to Speak Up!

Song of Solomon 8:13 “Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice: cause me to hear it.” “Cause me to hear it.” Does that phrase catch your attention? Our Lord is asking us to make something happen. I thought he heard every word we whispered in our beds at night. How is it that he is asking us to make him hear us? If he’d said, “Speak to me!” I’d know what he meant. Did you ever have a child who became staunchly silent, wrinkled up his nose, and pursed his lips with a big “No!” written all over his little face, but you had no idea why he didn’t want to do the simple thing you’d asked him to do…usually for his own good?  Why the resistance? Refusal seemed simply and totally unfathomable. “Speak to me!” I’d say. “Tell me what you’re thinking! Why are you saying, “No!” to a perfectly reasonable request?” I had one toddler who refused to participate in the simple developmental task tests that young children are sometimes asked to complete as part of their pediatric exams. All of my first five children had been very eager achievers and would happily build towers out of blocks or whatever “game” the nurse asked them to play.

However, number six would have nothing to do with such a scheme. When the nurse asked him to build a tower, he didn’t even respond. I knew he was a bright child who could easily accomplish the task, and I knew he wasn’t deaf, so I said, “Would you please build a tower out of blocks for the lady?” and demonstrated again just in case there was some misunderstanding. He ignored me too! I was mortified. He was a very loving, obedient child, and I was shocked that he was refusing to do such a simple thing. However, I swallowed my pride, mystified but unwilling to humiliate him publicly. I told the nurse he could build a tower out of three or more blocks (the parameters set for normal ability at his age), but that for whatever reason, he was unwilling to build one that day, and I didn’t want to push him.  After we left, I asked him what was wrong, but he was too little to know. It took me about two more years to understand the dynamics. This tiny chap was a tremendous perfectionist who was insecure about performance. He was unwilling to do anything that might draw attention to himself. When he learned to talk, I would hear him practicing words in a whisper before he would say them aloud: “orange…orange.” When he was only four, he taught himself to read out of the Bible—before I had any idea that he was learning to read—simply from being read to!  This past Sunday morning (written over a decade ago, although this past Sunday this same son was serving as the accompanist at his church) he was up with a group of young people leading the worship music at our chapel, and I marveled at how far the Lord has brought him in sixteen years: from obstructed by fear, to singing for his Creator!  Are you petrified by fear when it comes to speaking out for your Savior? Pray for grace, and the let him hear your voice!

Lord, Speak to Me, That I May Speak
(Frances R. Havergal, 1872)

  1. Lord, speak to me, that I may speak
    In living echoes of Thy tone;
    As Thou has sought, so let me seek
    Thine erring children lost and lone.
  2. Oh, lead me, Lord, that I may lead
    The wand’ring and the wav’ring feet;
    Oh, feed me, Lord, that I may feed
    Thy hung’ring ones with manna sweet.
  3. Oh, strengthen me, that while I stand
    Firm on the rock, and strong in Thee,
    I may stretch out a loving hand
    To wrestlers with the troubled sea.
  4. Oh, teach me, Lord, that I may teach
    The precious things Thou dost impart;
    And wing my words, that they may reach
    The hidden depths of many a heart.
  5. Oh, give Thine own sweet rest to me,
    That I may speak with soothing pow’r
    A word in season, as from Thee,
    To weary ones in needful hour.
  6. Oh, fill me with Thy fullness, Lord,
    Until my very heart o’erflow
    In kindling thought and glowing word,
    Thy love to tell, Thy praise to show.
  7. Oh, use me, Lord, use even me,
    Just as Thou wilt, and when, and where,
    Until Thy blessed face I see,
    Thy rest, Thy joy, Thy glory share.

 

Tacos for Breakfast? You Bet!

When we were in India last fall, we traveled with a very diverse group of people and ate a lot of really exotic food…pretty much morning, noon, and night.And, even in between times too…like this lovely tropical punch, which was part of  a very refreshing welcome when we arrived at the Jaypee Palace in Agra.

However, much as we enjoyed the food, there were definitely times when we’d daydream a little about what we missed from home! Several of the couples were Hispanic, and we learned from Marcy and Hugo that what they missed the most on the trip was what they always ate for breakfast in Texas. They appeared to be very wealthy (at least they’d been in 39 countries in the last 18 months), so I was expecting them to say “steak and eggs” or something like that. But, do you know what they love most?

Beautiful Breakfast Tacos!

Now, you might be familiar with breakfast tacos, but I’d never tried them. I’d never even thought about trying them! When I asked Marcy how she makes them, she said, “It’s easy! Anything you have in the kitchen wrapped in tortilla shells! I believe the most basic form is scrambled eggs with salsa, but you can add anything else you like. These have fresh spinach, but if you’re in the mood for something even more special, try adding any of the following:

*Chorizo sausage
*Any type of cheese you like, grated
*Avocado slices
*Fresh tomato
*Mango salsa
*Shaved slices of steak or ham
*Fresh or grilled onions
*Grilled mushrooms
*Anything else that appeals to you!

It’s super quick and easy…perfect for hot summer mornings when you want something with a lot of flavor that won’t heat up your kitchen much!

Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die: Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain” (Proverbs 30:7-9).

Even More Reasons to Love Meijer Gardens…All Around the Year!

Last Tuesday I mentioned six reasons why I love Frederik Meijer Gardens, but I was really just getting a good start when it occurred to me that 27 of my favorite photos and so many more words was enough for one day. So, to continue—

#7. Meijer Garden is a great place for bonding with loved ones!   As one example, it’s the perfect place to teach your kids how to use a camera because there’s beauty everywhere! #8. Speaking of bonding, the cafe is sunshiny and the  food delicious. Where else can you sit with a garden of Chihuly glass flowers above you,  a wall of green (and one of your sons) beside you, and a table adorned by real, live orchids in front of you? #9. Meijer’s Michigan Farm Garden is a treasure. It’s a real, live working farm where they grow lots of produce.They also have lots of real, not live (but still adorable) farm animal (sculptures).  #10. There are nature trails and abundant wildlife throughout. You can find turtles on sunny rocks, swans hiding behind brush, sunning themselves with their little ones, birds sitting in trees, frogs croaking in the bog,  geese and goslings to observe on the lawns,& friendly caterpillars who just happen to be at the right place at the right timeso even little ones can find them!  🙂  #11. There’s an excellent, family-friendly art gallery that has rotating exhibitions throughout the year.  One of the things I love most about Frederik Meijer Gardens is that I always feel like I can take my children and grand children there without worrying about what they’re going to see!  #12. There are special seasonal events. Not only are there beautiful bonsai exhibits all summer outside, There are numerous exhibitions and contests year around. If you’re not into competitions, you can still get ideas and buy supplies. They have really interesting arts and craft shows too, where you can buy fascinating items from various artists.  Of course, my favorite seasonal event is Christmas, when the garden turns into a fairyland of lights and color,complete with Christmas trains that chug around tracks and an elaborate, handmade village.

Well, it’s time to end again, and I haven’t begun to tell you about the  concert program at their amphitheater, their gift shop, or their great volunteer program, so I’ll just stop for now by saying that there is so much beauty and variety at Meijer Garden that I have trouble telling you “all about it!” Of course, that makes me think of Jesus, of whom the Apostle John wrote, And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25). Jesus is incomprehensibly more beautiful and infinitely more complex than a simple botanical garden here on earth! He’s worth exploring not only all around the year but every day forever. Have you gotten to know Him? You can learn about him through reading the Bible. The Book of John is a great place to start.

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God,
and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent
” (John 17:3).

Who Needs to Travel the World? Six Reasons Why I Love Meijer Gardens

When our family or friends come to Michigan, there are a few places I always recommend, but in Grand Rapids my favorite place to visit is—without a doubt— Meijer Garden. So, for those of you who may be looking for something very special to do in Michigan this summer, consider visiting Meijer Garden. Why? #1. The flowers are always spectacular! No need to travel to Holland to see tulips, or to Giverny near Paris to find a wistful arbor of wisteria. #2. The Japanese Gardens are stunning.Meticulously designed and artful in every detail. Restful and serene.  Filled with quiet spots to chat or sit and be creative! And, if you want a little taste of cherry blossoms in the spring,
there’s no need to visit Washington D.C. or Asia anymore!  #3. Lena Meijer’s Tropical Conservatory is like a breath of warm air.  Even when it’s snowy outside, there’s a world of warmth and beauty within. #4. Butterflies bloom during the barrenness of late winter
through early spring,
so you don’t have to go to Central America for a taste of the tropics!  #5. The Sculpture Park has become an international destination! With more than 200 sculptures in their permanent collection, you no longer have to go to Europe to see the work of famous sculptors! #6. The Lena Meijer Children’s Garden is a total delight!  Kids can get soaked…but you don’t have to! Or, they can have tea parties  while you rest in the shade and enjoy catching  up with each other. You don’t have to go to the Caribbean to take your kids sailing,  and if the boat capsizes, it’s no big deal!Also, no need to go to Africa to let your kids feel like big time explorers!

I was going to list ten reasons, but this post is already too long, so I’ll try to finish the others later this week. Meanwhile, happy planning as you think about your summer. Of course, while I’m promoting Michigan, three of my sons are vacationing in Italy together…but what can I say?  The other three and my daughter’s family are visiting us here in Michigan, so it’s all good!  As Robert Louis Stevenson would say, “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness,
and shall sing of thy righteousness
”  (Psalm 145:7).

Rise Up, My Love (294): Who Are Our Companions?

Song of Solomon 8:13 “Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice; cause me to hear it.” This is the husband’s cadenza. What is his last request for his beloved? That he might hear her voice. Tell me, if you can’t be physically present with the one you love, what’s the next best thing? For me, it’s talking on the phone.

Someone asked me what convenience I’ve enjoyed most since the beginning of the new millennium. Without a doubt, it’s having a cell phone small enough to slip into my purse and carry with me everywhere. My cell phone is programed and voice activated, so all I have to do is say my loved one’s name, and that person’s number is automatically dialed. With kids scattered from California to New York and even Italy now, one of my chief delights in life is being able to hear their cheery voices any old time I want! What a blessing! It takes a lot of the sting out of being separated. (And today, thanks to smart phones and internet, we can even see their faces!)  “The companions hearken to thy voice; cause me to hear it.” Our companions hear our voice…but how much more does the Lord long to hear us speaking to him! Actually, the verse doesn’t say our companions, or even your companions, but rather the companions. Who are “the companions?” According to the dictionary, a companion is “a person who accompanies or associates with another; a comrade; a person employed to assist, live with, or travel with another” (American Heritage, 384).  The root words refer to those who eat bread together. I was struck by the fact that being a companion is not exactly synonymous with being a friend, although certainly companions may also be friends. “The companions” is more closely related to “the business associates,” such as those individuals with whom we work every day. There is a sense in which this verse should encourage us to pay more careful attention to what we say to our coworkers, because “the companions hearken to thy voice.” Those we work with day by day are listening to us, whether or not we can tell, and they are being affected by what we say!  Above all, what is the message that God wants us to be telling “the companions?” In Exodus 3:16-18, God told Moses to gather the children of Israel together and tell them that God would deliver them from slavery and lead them “unto a land flowing with milk and honey.” God concluded by saying, “And they shall hearken to thy voice.” Listen to that! “And they will hearken to thy voice.” “The companions hearken to thy voice.”  Those around you do hear you. What are you telling them? What is the message you are preaching by your deeds and speaking with your heart and tongue? Beloved, is there any more needed message in this world today than the message that God will deliver us from our bondage and lead us “unto a land flowing with milk and honey?” Have you thought about what it means to “flow with milk?”  When I used to nurse my babies, I produced an incredible amount of milk. Sometimes while I was nursing, my husband would come over to watch, and the baby would pop off the nipple to look around and see his daddy, which would usually earn him a big squirt of milk all over his little face and ear. I mean, I was flowing!! The baby would fuss, but Alan would just smile and say, “Contented cows make good milk.”  A land flowing with milk and honey is a land where there’s peace, contentment, and an abundance of nourishing sweetness. On the spiritual level, “the companions” must be those with whom we associate because of our position as the king’s bride rather than simply the friends we have selected by personal choice. “The” companions are those who are also dwelling in the king’s gardens. We have all been engaged by the king to live together, to work together, to assist one another, to break bread together, and to travel together through the king’s gardens and into his celestial city.  “The companions” are fellow pilgrims we interact with through our church and other ministries. They also “hearken to our voice.” I graduated from a public high school but was able to attend a Christian university. My anticipation was that college would be sort of a Christian “Mecca” where I could relax and just “fit in” because everyone would love God and be zealously preparing to serve his Kingdom causes. My older and wiser spiritual brother, who was a senior at the same school, prepared me by saying, “Just remember, no matter where you go, you’re going to be either a missionary or a mission field.”  In this world, no matter how good our Christian organization or spiritual fellowship, all of us are works in process…growing, changing, backsliding, moving forward, needing encouragement, needing correction…needing each other to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord and calling one another on to love and good works. Until we get to heaven, there is no such thing as settling in to “status quo” mentality. The companions will be listening to our voice. May our speech be holy, gracious, and full of love and truth!

(Thank you, Bob Hardee, for sharing you gift of photos with scripture verses!)