Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future. 

~Paul Boese

Alan’s brother and sister-in-law have been visiting this week from California (in conjunction with Terry’s 50th high school class reunion), and we’ve  had so much fun! Besides enjoying the present in real time, we did lots of reminiscing about our past. I was struck by how “fresh” the memories were concerning their parents—both good and bad—even though Alan’s parents died over thirty years ago. It reminded me of a blizzardy ride to the funeral of a very dear friend (who was like another mother to me) several years ago. I rode with her two sons and overheard them talking. One (in his sixties) obviously still felt pangs of resentment for his mother’s failings. I was shocked, because this lady had mentored me for 40 years, and I thought she was the most godly person I’d ever known. How could anyone resent such a great person?

It occurred to me that WE ALL FAIL!! We all run off the track sometimes, even when we’re trying our best. I know I’ve failed miserably in lots of ways—past and present. I hope my children find the grace to forgive me for all the ways in which I failed as a mother. I hope the same for my husband and friends. It is my prayer that each of us can forgive those who have hurt us! Imagine loading all their offenses and sending them on a train up to the end of the line (like this track we saw in Alaska some years ago), and poof—into oblivion. When we hang on to pain, it hurts us more than anyone else.

“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

It’s Hard to Fish in Paradise: Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

So, on to the next stop in our R’n’Rs’n’B’n’B’s tour (alias “Rambles and Reflections in Byways and Broadways”…of Britain at the moment).If you want a thrilling adventure, walk across the Carrick-a-Rede…a swinging bridge built by hardy fishermen along the North Channel of the Irish Sea.  The bridge is 60 feet long and stretches across a chasm that is 80 feet deep.  (Don’t look down if you’re acrophobic!) Early every spring the fishermen reinstall the bridge so they can catch the abundant salmon that swim past through the channel and out to the open  sea.

The scenery is so spectacular that people come from miles around to see the views (or, from nations around, as it turns out, since it’s become a World Heritage Site) 🙂And so…how could we resist?!The sky was bright and beautiful…and the wind biting and COLD!But, I have to say that other than having to have a bit of pluck to brave the elements on such a chill spring morning, a touch of courage to jaunt across the chasm,  and a bit of common sense to keep from falling over the steep edges of the cliffs…It was an absolutely exhilarating adventure.

Alan and I read the Bible together every morning, and this morning I read these words from the Apostle Paul, whose friends were trying to persuade him to stay away from Jerusalem for his safety: “I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). Paul was so determined to share the “good news” that Christ died for us so that we can, by faith in him, receive forgiveness for our sins and inherit eternal life…so thrilled with this wonderful truth…that he spent his entire life “fishing” for men. He was like the hardy fishermen, finding ways to cross the chasm, braving the storms and raging seas (he was shipwrecked 3 times) and continuing to share the love of God until the day he died. WOW! Shame on me that I will cross the ocean to see gorgeous scenery but hesitate to share the gospel with those around me when they seem uninterested.

“And now, Lord…grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word” (Acts 4:29)

No More Teenagers

I’m not sure which is more traumatic: the day your first child becomes a teenager, or the day your last child stops being a teenager. What do you think? Aaron hit his teen years before Joel was even born, but Aaron was definitely the “Rocky Road” flavor, and I remember writing a little poem about his being thirteen that ended, “More ups and downs in just one day than in all the years along the way!” Of course, I would never have traded him for a barrel of monkeys, but today I wouldn’t trade him for anything! He’s a great son! 🙂Joel, on the other hand, was always unbelievably sweet. Do you know how most babies get big enough to climb out of their crib and let you know they’re awake  by jumping on your head? Well, I would wake up and find Joel cuddled next to me but just quietly waiting for me to wake up. Unbelievable! Here’s a picture of him first thing on the morning of his 20th birthday. As you can see…he’s still quiet, thoughtful, and unbelievably sweet!Joel’s birthday was on Sunday, June 19th, but this year that was also Father’s Day, and beyond that, Uncle Terry and Aunt Eileen were arriving on Sunday afternoon too, so our “cozy commune” (the four of us still living at home) had a first celebration for Joel on Saturday.As soon as they could, the rest of the Michiganders arrived to help celebrate!Sunday after church we celebrated Father’s Dayand had a very lazy, happy afternoon swimming and boating.Our firstborn was born on my 25th birthday. It took 20 years for our lastborn’s birthday to fall on Alan’s “Father’s Day,” and guessing that we might not all make it another 20 years to see if it will happen again…we really relished the specialness of Alan and Joel being able to share their mutual holiday as our lastborn finished his teenage years! In fact, everything about it was J.P. (“Just Perfect,” as my dad used to say). 🙂

Alan and I felt like we couldn’t have asked for a happier day or a sweeter son. But, after all is said and done, we think it’s more traumatic for your lastborn to turn 20 than for your firstborn to turn 13. So, for any of you reading this who may still have children living at home with you: treasure your time! It passes, and every day—even with the tiredness and all the ups and downs—is precious!

“LORD, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations…For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night…O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil. Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us; and establish thou the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:1, 4, 14-17)

Ballintoy Harbor: A Hidden Jewel

You won’t find Ballintoy, Ireland listed in any tour guide. Our guide book listed 1, 2, and 3-star attractions, but Ballintoy wasn’t even in the index! Still, my son Michael said, “Stop in Ballintoy if you have time.” Great tip!

This tiny fishing and farming community, with only 165 residents, has been pretty much unheard of—throughout history. It’s sort of like Dafter, Alan’s home town in upper Michigan. Ever heard of Dafter? Well, neither had I until 3 Dafter boys joined our 8th grade class, and I learned within a few months that they were 3 of the nicest boys in our class! In this life, there are often true gems that are hidden away.It only took an extra 15 minutes to find the little coastal road down to the shore and enjoy a quiet walk along the beach.

The beach was pretty much deserted but beautiful!And we found the most wonderful cave that looked just like Pete’s Dragon might pop out at any minute!

I’ve been praying especially for a friend lately whose husband is in a wheel chair and whose only daughter (in her early twenties) is just starting dialysis for kidney failure this week. My friend feels like a flop at life because she spends most of her waking hours caring for her largely housebound loved ones and has practically no life outside her home, but I look at her very differently! To me, she’s a great success because she’s persevered for most of her adult life in a very, very difficult role as caregiver. To me, she’s a jewel hidden away in a cave, just like Ballintoy is a jewel hidden away in Ireland. No acclaim, but there faithfully, day after day and year after year, fulfilling Mother Teresa’s wisdom: “In this life we cannot always do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” And, someday, I believe she will hear her Lord say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful…enter thou into the joy of the Lord” (Matt. 25:21).

Knowing God, Knowing Myself

On the road of life, there are always special people who help point us in the right direction. Cec Murphy is one of those for me. I met this white-haired, spritely manifestation of wit and grace at a “Breathe” writers’ conference two years ago, where—as the author of over 120 books—he was the keynote speaker. Just a few months ago he blessed me with a complimentary copy of his latest book, Knowing God Knowing Myself, and I just finished reading it this morning while waiting at the blood donation center. It is a compilation of 68 short essays reflecting on what he’s learned about God and himself over the course of his long life: traumatic childhood, work as a missionary in Kenya, and years as a pastor and writer here in the U.S. I found myself readily identifying with this hot tempered, hard-driven, perfectionistic believer who’s been passionate about following Christ but frustrated by failures. He reminds us that “the doing is our responsibility; the result is God’s responsibility,” and recommends that we encourage ourselves by trying to be “passionately involved in the process” but “emotionally detached from the result.” (That’s a hard one for me!) He reminds us that “the victorious Christian life” isn’t one without struggles; it’s a life where we have lots of battles (can’t have victory without a battle, now can we?), but we  continue to act in faith and love no matter what challenges come our way. It’s a life where we forgive and forget, not only the failures of others, but our own failures too. (Obviously this is the last step after seeking forgiveness and reconciliation.) He reminds us that “we are great works of spiritual art” (in process) and concludes with a provocative prayer to make our eyes open wide and the corners of our mouths turn up (if we can even take it in): “Loving God, show me the truth about myself, no matter how wonderful it might be.” Sound crazy? there’s doubtless more truth to it than we can imagine. 🙂

“The LORD bless thee, and keep thee; The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

Belfast: I’m Late, I’m Late, for a Very Important Date!

Have you ever felt like Alice, chasing an illusive white rabbit through the mazes of Wonderland? Because we had lingered longer than expected at the music festival, we were already “behind schedule” as we headed into Belfast.We gave up on trying to visit the highly rated Ulster Museum and just whisked through town capturing glimpses of a few of Belfast’s more notable sights such as the fabled Parliament Building, which someone told us “was Northern Ireland.” The Parliament Building (as I understand it) is 365 feet long (one for every day of the year) and was built in 1932 in honor of Northern Ireland’s loyalty to Britain, although I know the longing for Irish independence has been an unending, complex issue for both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.It was a beautiful afternoon, so we couldn’t resist strolling through the extensive grounds of “Stormont Estate” where the buildings are located. This was a byway I’d not read about or anticipated, and I knew time was getting away on us.

What to do?There always seems to be the challenge of balancing opportunities that come to us with the importance of pursuing our visionary ideals. Do I keep the bird that’s in my hand or chase the two in the bushes? We didn’t want to miss the loveliness and life lessons in front of us simply because they appeared unexpectedly while we were trying to find Belfast Castle, so we paused to reflect on this beautiful memorial depicting the need for all mankind to seek forgiveness and love, even in the face of tragic evil and war.And we rambled past a grove of stately trees on lawns sprinkled with spring flowers, where I felt a little like we were part of some historic memory.

Breathe deeply and connect with time immemorial.But, soon enough we were on our way to the top of Cave Hill in hopes of seeing at least a little bit of Belfast Castle before its 6:00 pm closing time.I was overjoyed that the gate was still open at 5:40. It looked so inviting!But, we were too late to get in! The guard told me the gate was still open for the guests who were already inside, but they stopped new admissions at 5:30 pm. We were 10 minutes too late. 😦

Sadly, all we could do was walk along the edge and try to catch some glimpses through the fences and hedges.I do not think I would have changed anything about the good parts of the day, but we spent at least an hour getting lost, missing turns, and feeling a bit confused and frustrated about our directions…and it really did make me stop and think. Are we really following the Way, or do we spend significant parts of each day getting off the right track because we’re not paying close enough attention? Do we trust our Guide, or do we wonder if he’s really right (as our GPS unit sometimes isn’t)?

And, are we even chasing the right dreams? I think we would have loved Belfast Castle. If we’d been just a little wiser and more careful, we could have made it to the castle in time. In our journey through the wonderland of this world, I am praying that we all follow the Way and make it safely to our final destination —our very most important date—in time. I hope none of us ends up lamenting: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” (Jeremiah 8:20).

“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

(2 Corinthians 6:2)

Great Expectations…Mount Stewart

Linda called cheerily over Jon’s shoulder into the phone, “Mom’s itinerary is insane!” Jon just laughed. I suppose he was remembering 10 years back to our infamous “Trashcan Tour” across the Iberian Peninsula using a Eurail Pass, where Jon and I lived on bread and water (as we found it incidentally) to save time and money in order to drink in vistas of the Mediterranean Sea and feast on the beauty of sun-kissed, cobbled streets and gold-encrusted palaces and cathedrals.In truth, I have a rather tarnished reputation as a travel guide: I am notorious for trying to see too much in too little time. But, I want you to know at the beginning of this effort to share our British Isles adventure that I did cut our itinerary in half—down from about 200 possibilities to only about 100—trying to limit myself to ferreting out only “the best of the best.” This included giving up a trip to Castle Ward (interesting to me because I was a Ward until marrying Alan). I might have caught a glimpse of this castle at the southern end of Strangford Lough, but in fact, we opted to spend the afternoon meandering through Mount Stewart on the northeastern shore of the lake instead.

Mount Stewart is an 18th century estate that was the home of Lord Castlereagh and is filled with wonderful treasures, such as this extremely famous painting by George Stubbs. However, like most of the great houses and castles we visited, you could photograph practically nothing within the house. 😦

However, Mount Stewart is really most famous for its marvelous gardens, which are considered to be among the greatest in the National Trust. I’m a believer!

If you ever want to tour the British Isles, I highly recommend going in early May like we did! The woodlands are alive with bright bluebells dancing in the breeze. (Not just on estates, but growing wild in the woods.)Beyond the formal gardens (of which there are many), Mount Stewart includes an entrancing walk around their own private lake hedged by thousands of rare and unusual plants (as well as plenty of well known beauties)along with dozens of rare and common waterfowl! 🙂In some places, the ground was covered with pastel carpets of flowers falling from the trees.And, when we returned, we discovered there was a festival of choirs singing light classical and traditional Celtic music. Talk about “above and beyond.” What a perfect way to spend an afternoon!Sometimes our great expectations are disappointed, but on this day our delight exceeded my imaginations!

I kind of think my experience of God’s love has often been the same!

“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Just Who Gets to Go to Heaven?

My computer died and went to heaven…or, at least, I hope it did! The body remained, but the spirit (in the form of my hard disk) suffered mortal injury and had to be replaced. The resurrection of its memory caused me serious consternation and some reflection on Rob Bell’s latest best seller, Love Wins.

Let me explain. In 2009 my computer was stolen, and I lost about 6 months of writing and photographs (which I’d forgotten to back up before leaving). Vowing never to allow such a tragedy again, I bought a “Lacie” backup system, so that my computer automatically backs up my files every day. So, when the hard drive on my new computer slowed down to a near standstill and the computer genius pronounced it dead, I was alarmed but not totally devastated. Days later, I was able to take my computer home with a new hard drive and resurrected memory. To my dismay, I discovered that every item that had ever appeared on my desk top was now sitting on my desktop again, waiting to be seen, considered, and judged (if you will). It took me hours and hours and hours to go through the painstaking process of looking at each file and deciding whether or not it was worth keeping and filing (and where???) or trashing. Thus…the meditations on what happens to us after death.

Rob Bell seems to think that God would lose if he allows anyone to be “trashed” (by not making it into heaven) after they die (if I understand him correctly, and I may not). I have to confess that the thought of everyone who ever lived being able to live happily ever after has great appeal to me, and so I wondered if he could possibly be correct. I’ve been mulling it over for months as I meditated on the Bible day by day. Here’s my conclusion, and it’s based largely on what the scriptures teach about an esoteric volume called “the book of life.”

1.  Not everyone’s name has been written in the book of life: “the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast…” (Revelation 17:8, KJV).

2. Those whose names are not written in the book of life will worship false gods: “And all who dwell on earth shall worship it [the beast], everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (Revelation 13:8-10, ESV).

3. After we die, we will all be judged: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Revelation 20:12).

4. The Bible makes it crystal clear that the only “good work” that will justify us on judgment day is believing in the “good work” of Christ, who lived a sinless life and died a sacrificial, substitutionary death for us: “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him [Jesus] whom he [God] has sent” (John 6:29). “But as many as received him [Jesus], to them gave he [God] power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his [Jesus’] name” (John 1:12). “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). “And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

5. The good news is that God offers salvation as a free gift to anyone who will believe: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:46). (The wording “as many as were ordained” gives the distinct impression that not everyone will believe and receive eternal life.)

6. The bad news is that not everyone will believe, and those who do not believe will neither be kept on the desktop nor filed away into heaven. “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).

7. This is a very sobering, sorrowful fact. God chose to give us a free will, and with that choice comes the freedom to accept or reject God’s claim on our lives and his provision for our salvation. We can choose to accept Christ or reject him, but I believe it will be us—and not God—who loses if we fail to surrender to his love and accept his grace. God loves us and provided the way for us, but we have to take it. The fact that God “is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2Peter 3:9) is an explanation for his incredible patience in waiting for us to respond to him, but it is NOT grounds for assuming that God will somehow magically make us all believe after we die “whether we want to or not.” After we die, we will see God. The opportunity for salvation by faith will have ended because the reality of knowing the truth about God will have begun. Love wins, but disbelief loses. If you’re not yet sure, would you say with the distraught father in Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

Time Out for a Smile

After a wonderful 5-day visit

Michael and Grace are now in Hawaii toughing it out…poor dears! After Jon finished grading exams and flew to the East Coast to officiate at a life-long friend’s wedding, he and Gerlinde left to tour Italy for three weeks while teaching a class for Moody there…poor dears!The house is getting pretty quiet. 😦The birthday club celebrated Susan’s 50th last week,and Rex and Cindi’s 25th wedding anniversary (and to see pictures from their anniversary trip to Costa Rica, where Cindi had been doing mission work when Rex flew down 26 years ago to propose).

Over the weekend, we celebrated Alan’s 61st birthday. Only Stephen and Joel were home…but then again, who can complain about “only” having two sons at home anymore, especially at our age?! What a joy they are! 🙂The weather has been in the 80°s and 90°s, so we went to Grand Haven.As always, it was a royal treat!But other than that, there’s not much to tell until I get my computer back and running, so I’ll just leave you with a few jokes gleaned from the 450 emails I’ve been trying to sort through since returning from Europe:

KIDS IN CHURCHL 3-year-old Reese: ‘Our Father, Who does art in heaven, Harold is His name.. Amen.’

One particular four-year-old prayed, ‘And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.’

A Sunday school teacher asked her children as they were on the way to church service, ‘And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?’ One bright little girl replied, ‘Because people are sleeping.’

A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin 5, and Ryan 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson… ‘If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’ Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, ‘ Ryan, you be Jesus !’

A father was at the beach with his children when the four-year-old son ran up to him, grabbed his hand, and led him to the shore where a seagull lay dead in the sand. ‘Daddy, what happened to him?’ the son asked. ‘He died and went to Heaven,’ the Dad replied. The boy thought a moment and then said, ‘Did God throw him back down?’