A Meditation on Pictured Rocks and Miners Castle

Miner's CastleOur last major stop in Michigan’s paradisial U.P. was at Miners Castle Pictures Rocks National Lakeshore near Munisingalong Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a spectacular 73+thousand-acre park which includes 42 miles of Lake Superior shoreline.Unusual Arches of Pictured Rocks If you ever get a chance to visit, Pictured Rocked Boat TourI’d really recommend taking a boat tour along the coast, Caves along Pictured Rocks because you can’t see the incredible colors and intricate designs of the rocky Pictured Rocks  formations nearly as well when you’re standing atop the sandstone cliffs. Hike to Munising Beach  However, there are also many memorable hikes along the forested ridges. Path full of roots Of course, they tend to be steep and rooty, but they’re absolutely beautiful! Miner's CastleOn this especially glorious August morning, we opted to visit Miners Castle Lake Superior from Miner's Castleand take a hike along the top of the 200′ cliffs overlooking Lake Superior. Kayakers in Lake SuperiorHowever, we got distracted when we saw groups of kayakers Kayakingplying the clear, quiet waters, Munising Beach.and we noticed that Miners Beach, which is usually quite deserted,Munising Beachwas brimming over with groups of kayakers! Sand PointSo, instead of taking a hike to Sand PointPictured Rocks National Lakeshorealong the rocky cliff tops, Beautiful colors of Pictured Rockswe decided to trek the trail down to Miners Beach. Miners RiverHappily, there’s a well traveled foot path that leads along Miners River Miners River reaches Miners Beachas it meanders from the high country down to Miners Beach. Miners River. Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreMiners River has its origin in Hiawatha National Forest, Looking back at Miners Riverand it’s the largest river in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Testing the water at Miners RiverThe water is cold but clear, Miners River Meets Beachand it’s very clean, despite looking brown from all the tannic acid (due to decomposed vegetation). Children playing in Miners River However, the color doesn’t stop anybody (like these children) from playing! Crossing Miners RiverNear the end of the trail there’s a footbridge across Miners River,Miners Riverand then it’s just a quick jaunt along the sandy river shoreline Miners Beachbefore you’re out to Lake Superior and ready for a swim! Lake SuperiorWell, we could have if we’d only thought to bring our swimsuits! Too bad. 😦 Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore 2The other thing we’d failed to consider was just how hot and thirsty we might become. Water water everywhere, but ne’er a drop to drink! Picking Wild BlueberriesThankfully, it was blueberry season, and even the little bursts of wild Wild Blueberriessweetness were enough to invigorate us for the return trek (uphill). Miners River 2

It struck me that we took fewer precautions for this hike because we were so familiar with the area. Instead of my usual “Semper paratus” attitude (“always ready”), I felt so at home that I became careless. Not exactly that “familiarity breeds contempt” but that—at least in my case—familiarity bred a lack of normal precaution and thoughtfulness in planning. Munising National LakeshoreIs there any chance you and I are so familiar with this world that we’re not making adequate preparations for our spiritual journeys? Are we packing the swimsuit (garments) of salvation and the water of life so we don’t miss out?

“By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” (Hebrews 11:7).


A Few of my Favorite Birds (14): Flyin’ High Like the Eagles

Eagle 9.20.12 at our homeAlthough it’s rare to see an eagle flying over our lake (as one did 2 years ago), they do live in the area, and eagles are definitely one of my favorite birds! Golden Eagle Profile There is probably no bird as exalted as the eagle, which was used as a symbol of power and majesty even during biblical times. Great Seal of U.S. The bald eagle, indigenous only to North America, has been the national symbol of the United States since our country’s inception in 1789.Eagle Fluffy Feathers This great bird has been protected and honored ever since, as former President John F. Kennedy affirmed: Eagle as symbol of our Country 2 “The Founding Fathers made an appropriate choice when they selected the bald eagle as the emblem of the nation. The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird aptly symbolizes the strength and freedom of America.”  Eagle. Bronze Statue Bald eagles are among the largest of the “raptors” (birds of prey). Males weigh 7-10 pounds and have wing spans of up to six feet. Surprisingly (at least to me), the females are even larger, weighing up to 14 pounds and attaining a wing span of up to 8 feet! So, if you ever have the privilege of seeing a pair, the bigger one is actually the female. Eagle watching Although bald eagles have been carefully protected in America since 1940, some zoos are allowed—by special permission—to keep eagles. Golden Eagle 1The High Desert Museum near Bend, Oregon, has 2 eagles who were found injured but rescued. These stately birds could no longer survive in the wild. Pair of Eagles Did you know that eagles mate for life and live up to 30 years? The John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids has a mating pair, and this year they have an eaglet, although I’ve not been able to get a good picture of it despite several trips to the zoo!  Eagle's Nest Eagles use the same nest year after year, which can eventually become  massive in size (up to 10 feet across). Although the female usually lays 2-3 eggs, only one eaglet normally survives, because it will kill any other eaglet that hatches, and the parents don’t intervene. Janine Harles's photo via Pivot Evans. Woodway, WA 5:12:14 (Above is a very happy exception, photographed by Pivot Evans this past May, 2014 in Washington State.) Bald-headed Eagle Wings  After about 4-6 months, the eaglets learn to fly by a do-or-die dive out of the nest. (If they’re too hesitant, the parent will eventually push them over the edge!) Bald Eagle in coniferHowever, because nests in the wild are usually at very high elevations, the parent eagle will swoop down under the eaglet and help support it if the young eagle doesn’t learn to flap fast enough to survive the first dive.  Bald Eagle over our lake 1.31.13Hence, the scripture in Deuteronomy 32:11-13, where the Lord speaks of his tender care for his children: “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the LORD alone guided him.” Bald Eagle. Heather CushmanAs I consider the mighty eagle—and how it represents America—I am sobered to remember that God is not only a tender parent, he is a demanding God who requires holiness. Bald-headed Eagle 1 In Obadiah 1:4 he warns against the sins of pride and arrogance, “‘Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down,’ saith the Lord.” Eagle EatingIf we don’t want to be reduced to living in captivity, we need to resist feeding on the carrion of this world and humble ourselves as a nation, Eagle flyingturning away from evil and prayerfully seeking the way of Light. Bald eagle fluffy feathersI would love to see our nation known for courage and goodness Bald-headed Eagle 2 rather than self-indulgence and degenerate living, wouldn’t you? Bald-headed EagleMay God give us grace to be true to our calling, individually and nationally, Eagle Flyin' High Heather Cushmanso we can keep on flyin’ high like the eagles! Bald Eagle (EJ Magnuson)(Close up of the bald eagle sitting high up on a snag and the next-to-the last picture are used by permission of my cousin, Heather C. The last picture was taken by my friend E.J.M. in Juneau, Alaska in July! The rest I took in Michigan, Colorado, and Oregon.)

Writer to Writer

09.17.14 Writer to WriterIf you’re serious about writing and ever hope to publish, I’d highly recommend Cec Murphy’s recent book, Writer to Writer: Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing. Cec, who’s published over 135 books in his 40+ year career as a professional writer, filled his book chock full of ideas on how to improve as a writer and how to get published.

Cec’s style is plain, personal, and pointed. The entire book is written in bite-sized essays that provide excellent snacks for thought and are easily digested. He begins with a plethora of information to help unpublished writers grow beyond the amateur look—starting with your book’s first sentence. He walks you through principles for writing the best book you’re capable of writing and then goes on to explain many things about the publishing business, including how to write an engaging query letter, things to consider when looking for an agent, and even some tips on what to watch for when you’re getting ready to sign a contract with an editor who’s offered to take your book.

Writer to Writer is also a practical writing manual containing sections on grammar, verbs, point-of-view, and on and on! As a final gift, Cec includes a “bonus chapter” about marketing written by Kathy Carlton Willis (head of a communications company), because—as he puts it—she “knows more about marketing than I’d figure out in years.”

I highlighted so much material in my copy of Writer to Writer that it looks like a text book…and in reality, that’s exactly what it is! If you’re interested but can’t afford your own copy, Cec also has an excellent blog where he has shared much of this information over time and continues to give out freely from his lifetime of experience, as well as providing insights from other writers.  You can access his blog here: www.cecwritertowriter.com

Happy writing, and all the best to you as you write! If you read Writer to Writer, get inspired to be a part of a writing group such as he describes, and live in the GR area…let me know. Maybe we can get something going!

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”
(Colossians 3:23)



Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Peaceful Munising Falls

Beautiful Fall LeavesAlan and I have visited Acadia National Park in the fall, Lake Superior Sunset and it is truly beautiful, Dead River. Autumn but I don’t think it’s any more stunning Munising National Lakeshore in Fall than Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) in autumn. Mackinac Bridge ViewIt wasn’t quite autumn when we got lost in blue Mackinac Bridge copy crossing the Mighty Mac during our last trip, Miner's Castlebut the U.P. was every bit as beautiful as we remembered it! Munising River After visiting Marquette, we stopped in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Munising Falls Trail to see a peaceful little waterfall tucked away deep in the woods.Munising Falls and Stream Munising Falls drops 50 feet over a sandstone cliff but is relatively quiet.Munising Waterfall. Kids youngSince “time immemorial” in our family, we’ve been hiking the kid-friendly trail Munising Waterfallthat leads upstream along a gurgling brook to the base of the falls. Munising FallsThere is a path on the ledge behind the first falls just before the second falls,  Enjoying Munising Falls and we used to walk Munising Falls 2 completely around the falls using this narrow passageway. Munising Falls Path endsHowever, the pathway is now deemed unsafe and has been closed,Munising Falls Stairwayalthough you can still climb the stairways on both sides for some lovely views. Tahquahmenon Falls copyForty years ago, when Alan and I were first married, we used to be able to walk behind Tahquahmenon Falls too, but that’s no longer allowed either. Dead River in FallSometimes I find myself wishing for the “good, old days” when there were fewer restrictions and more freedoms to enjoy America the beautiful! Joe Pye WeedInstead, in this world of change, I need to have more appreciation for the things Cloverthat remain constant—even the very little joys— and be more thankful for them. Barefoot CreekWe may not live on our beloved “Barefoot Creek” anymore, Munising Falls. Peacefulbut wherever we are, we can be at peace, because God is with us.

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3).

(I took all these pictures in Michigan’s beautiful U.P.)

The Scoop on Marquette’s Best Kept Secrets


Stephen with DaisiesAlthough our family only lived in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula 4 years, Joel as BabyJoel was born there, and that era was very formative for our family’s lore, Picnic at Presque Isle so we’re often drawn to return on vacations…as we did just before school started. Stephen on mountain topLast week I shared about yet another climb to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain,   Wetmore Landinghiking the North Country Trail and swimming at Wetmore Landing. Jean Kay's Pastie ShopBy then we were ready for our favorite lunch: some of Jean Kay’s tasty pasties Presque Isle Road totaken out as a picnic to Presque Isle…a tradition since 1989 for us, Freighter into Marquette Harbor although the first time Alan and I took some pasties to the park, Presque Isle. Winter we didn’t realize it was going to be as chilly as it was, Sailboat. Marquette Harbor so we left our pasties on the table and went back to the car for jackets. Sea gull at Presque Isle Big Mistake! A seagull swooped in and tried carrying off the pasty, which Pasty broke into a shower of golden crusts, rutabaga, steak, onions, & potatoes! 😦 Yooper HatsSince then, we’ve learned a lot about living in Yooperland, Here's the Scoopand that’s why I want to share the scoop on some of Marquette’s best! Breakwall After lunch we took a meander out to the end of Presque Isle’s break wall, Presque Isle Breakwall which becomes a bit of a rock-jumping exercise once you’re out a ways. Rocky Walk! From the break wall, there are lovely vistas of Marquette’s lower harbor Lower Harbor, Marquette, MI and the clear, cool waters of Lake Superior.  Lake Superior's Clear WaterIf you ever have several days to explore the Marquette area, climbingClimbing down Hogback Mt.Hogback Mt. has been one of our favorite secrets since the kids were little. Glass Milk Bottles. Old FashionedHowever, having just one day, we opted for a quick nostalgia tour checking outYooper Dome all the places around town that had been special to us: the Yooper Dome, NMUNMU (where Aaron started college when he was thirteen), Marquette General HospitalMarquette General, where Alan worked and Joel was born, Office BuildingAlan’s old office, Youth Center& the youth center where our GR youth group once helped with renovations. Marquette LighthouseWe didn’t stop at the lighthouse or maritime museum, but they’re both worth visiting, and on a warm day, McCarty’s Cove (here) is great place to swim. Jilbert DairyAnother well kept secret is Jilbert’s Dairy…much loved by those who know.Jilbert's MenuWe used to get “mixed pails” (a gallon pail made from the tail-ends of two different types of ice cream that had been made that day) for great prices, Jilbert Sundaebut they don’t offer those anymore, although their home made ice creams are still “to die of” yummy (as Alan likes to tease) and priced very well.Jilbert Dairy CowBut, I’ve saved the very best secrets for last! Dead River FallsWhen we lived in Marquette, we “just happened” to live on 50 acres that dead-ended at the Dead River Falls. Dead River Falls 2 This wonderful series of falls is all on private property (as part of the flood plain for the Dead River dam system) and therefore isn’t a public park…but you can unofficially hike them by walking upstream from Marquette’s Tourist Park. Dead River Falls 3Alan and I think they’re even more beautiful than Maui’s 7 Sacred Pools!

Dead River When we lived in Marquette, we used to hike the falls from our backyard, and we were so enchanted that one summer I wrote a mystery for our children called The Dead River Diamond. Perhaps I can publish it in time for the grand kids, since I don’t really want my book to be just another well kept secret! Dead River Falls 4
For many on this earth, the all-time best kept secret is where to find not just one big diamond, like the Dead River Diamond, but a wondrous treasure that’s been hidden for each of us. Jesus called it “the pearl of great price,” and he was referring to the Kingdom of God. Have you found it yet? If not, please just ask. I have found it, and I’d love to share with you how you can have it for your own too!

“The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field, which when a man has found, he hides, and for joy thereof goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).

Rise Up, My Love (102): Come with Me

Rocky Mountains copySong of Solomon 4:8 “Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon:” A surprising number of commentators argue over the physical location of the couple at this point and completely forget the more important spiritual aspect of the verse, which is the king’s invitation. It is as if the directors of the play got so totally consumed by figuring out the direction from which the actors should make their next entrance that they fail to comment on how the actors recite their lines! However, every word of God is important, so let’s consider why the king says, “Come with me from Lebanon.”

Weren’t they in Jerusalem? The royal cavalcade that appeared in chapter 3:6 was definitely transporting the bride from their home to a new location. At first I assumed that they must have been moving to Jerusalem, since that was the capitol, but after meditating on many Scriptures and studying up on Biblical geography and history, it seems most likely that they were moving to their new palace called the Forest of Lebanon, which according to The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, “refers to an armory or treasure house which King Solomon built in or near Jerusalem” (Vol. 2, 594).

In I Kings 7 and 10, and 2 Chronicles 9, there are amazing descriptions given of Solomon’s wonderful retreat “cottage” called the house in the Forest of Lebanon…a little country estate of 11,250 sq. feet built entirely of cedar “and all the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were of pure gold” (10:21). Solomon also had built at this palace a throne for judging which (if it is the same throne described in I Kings 10:18) was made of ivory overlaid with gold…a throne with six steps leading up to it and a dozen lions, one on each side of each step, guarding the way: “There was not the like made in any kingdom” (I Kings 10:20). This incredible forested estate was definitely made for ruling, and it seems perfectly reasonable to believe that this was the home to which Solomon was bringing his wife in chapter 3:6.

Let’s review quickly. In the first part of chapter three, the husband has disappeared and the wife goes out in search of him. After a happy reunion, the husband leaves again and the wife this time learns to wait in patience for his return. When he returns, he comes with a glorious retinue and whisks her off to a magnificent official celebration, probably the “grand opening” of their new palace…I would like to think the palace built in her honor. The opening verses of chapter four sing out the praises of the bride and seem to depict her glorious beauty at their public wedding celebration—perhaps instating her as the official queen—and during the rapturous evening that followed. The second half of the chapter, encompassing verses 8-14, could easily be describing a honeymoon of sorts, including a tour of the entire land over which the couple will be reigning together.

“Come with me from Lebanon.” When the curtain lifts, it seems that the king and queen are enjoying a royal honeymoon amongst the sweetly scented trees at their new estate known as the Forest of Lebanon. However, it’s not impossible that they have already made their way to the real Forest of Lebanon, which runs along the northern coast near Tyre and into Lebanon and would make an ideal vacation spot if you enjoyed sea, forest, and mountains. Talk about a room with a view! Mt. Hermon, which is one of the mountains mentioned in this verse, is in the southern spur of this forested Anti-Lebanon chain, and three countries meet on its slopes: Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. Perhaps it is from this vantage point that the verse eight “snapshot” is recorded.

However, the most critical aspect of the verse is not their exact location, or how they arrived there, but what the king says to his bride: “Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse…”

Two wonderful truths spring up from this geyser. “Come with me!” The first truth is that we are never called to go alone once we are joined to Christ, but we are ever called to come with him. God is neither an unfeeling deity who does not see, nor is he only a benevolent father who watches over us tenderly; God is a lover who calls us to his side, to walk in his presence with him! What a comforting thought—if we can only grasp it—that he calls us to walk in his Spirit with him. We should never feel alone.

The second truth is that we should always feel loved… and accepted…and united. “Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse.” This is the first time the king addresses his bride as “spouse.” The word is kalla in the Hebrew, which is a term of tender endearment. She is now his bride joined to him…his spouse…even as Adam declared, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). Could we ever feel unloved and unwanted if we understood the reality of Christ’s love for us? He has called us to be his bride—bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh.

When we participate in the communion feast, we should be consciously refreshed by this thought! “Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you (I Corinthians 11:24). “This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). As we partake of the symbols of his flesh and blood, let’s meditate on the mystery of our being bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh! We are accepted in the beloved. We are one with him. We are never alone, and we are always loved!


The Armstrong Archives (102): Aaron Starts Kindergarten

Aaron and Alan eat pancakesSeptember 18,1981 It’s fall already, or at least it is around our house! Aaron began kindergarten at Faithway Christian Academy. The school is right on Alan’s way to work, and Aaron has lived to see the fulfillment of his three-year-old dream: “Just think, Dad, when I’m big I’ll go to kindergarten. Then we can both go to school together!” Reminds me a little of the blessing before breakfast (and this is no lie) when Alan prayed, “and please bless Kathi and Michael and Jonathan as they play all morning.” Tomorrow I’m going to ask the Lord to bless Alan while he plays at the hospital all morning! (Well, that may be a lie.) -1After the first day of school last week, Aaron’s opening comment to me was, “I hate school. You have to take a nap.” How well I remember the good old days when my best friend and I used to unroll our rugs under the teacher’s desk in kindergarten in the hopes she wouldn’t catch us playing during nap time when she returned from the teacher’s lounge. The second day Aaron was chosen as “boy leader” for being the best behaved, so things started to look up, and by the end of the week he’d found a lovely little boy named Jonathan for a best friend whose parents are Ethiopians here in America for training (and now unable to get back into their country because of the war). It’s a 6.5-hour program with Bible lessons, memory verses, and catechism daily as well as the regular round of reading, math, art, music, etc. They have a traditional approach but use all Christian texts (from the Bob Jones curriculum), have twenty-one students and a teacher’s aide. At the doctor yesterday we learned that Aaron is at the 50% in both height and weight for children entering kindergarten, and he seems just as happy as a skunk, so we’re glad to have waited the extra year before starting him. 1981 Michael and JonMeanwhile, Michael (almost 4) has taken over the role of “man in the family” at home all day. He is a much more compassionate big brother than Aaron was at that age (possibly from knowing how it feels to be squelched), and Jonathan (18 months) follows him around faithfully. Also, Michael doesn’t seem nearly as interested in overseeing my housework as Aaron did, so things get done much more quickly. Jonathan loves to help though. His three jobs are: unloading the dishwasher, holding the dustpan when I sweep the kitchen floor, and bringing shoes to people. It simply amazes me how much easier things are with only two at home instead of three! Pants on Head. J+MAlan has been working in the Intensive Care Unit this month and is back to working such long hours that the kids sometimes don’t see him from Wednesday night until Saturday morning. This was supposed to be his easy year, but they keep changing the program to improve patient care, which of course de-proves resident care. At least he has a job, and he actually loves being a physician, so we have a great deal to be grateful for! He’s still most interested in practicing in Ann Arbor or Petoskey, MI, although his feelers are out and nothing is really certain. He probably won’t make any major decisions before next spring. He’s also considering a last fling around the country in January on one of Eastern Airline’s “Fly Anyway” passes to take in a cardiology conference at Disney World (a fringe benefit of the program…you know how the kids and I will hate it, especially since we’re going to meet our dearest Ann Arborite friends there; Tim just finished at the U. of M. last summer, and Sue, Jeff, and Andi kept Kathi, Aaron, and Michael company through many long months) and visit all our sibs. Are we ever excited about that! [These were the years that Sue and I used to joke about being “residents” widows” together; it was a common joke among the residents’ wives.] 1981 Sue Valk+Kids[I’m not exactly where to include these stories, but they are vivid memories that never made it into letters. I was quite concerned about how Michael would do after Aaron started school, because up until that time Aaron had always done most of the talking and Michael had been pretty quiet. However, as soon as Aaron started school, Michael opened up and began talking to me…nonstop! I was amazed and delighted at my little chatterbox…but sometimes almost a little overwhelmed.

On one of those occasions, Michael asked me a question while I was trying to do something, and I didn’t actually hear what he said, so I said, “I’m sorry, Honey. What did you say? I think I’m almost too tired to talk!”

“Oh, that’s okay!” Michael said with cheery empathy. “I’ll do all the talking and you can do all the listening!” He really was a very happy, companionable child.

Another thing I remember was that at first, Michael and Jon followed me everywhere (since they no longer had Aaron as a playmate). One of those days I was changing Jon to put him down for his nap and Michael was laughing and chattering away, sitting on the floor right beside us. As soon as I took off Jon’s diaper, he let fly with a huge arc of “pee” (which was not intentional; it is so common for little guys to pee when their diapers are removed that I almost wonder if there’s something instinctive going on with the change in air temperature or something). At any rate, Michael got caught in the spray, but instead of getting mad, he just jumped up and said, “Whoa! It’s raining in here!” We got all cleaned up, and the sun came out again! Mike was a very patient big brother, and Jon adored him.]

The Woman with the Fork

09.12.14 Woman with ForkHave you heard this story yet? It’s an anonymous forward from the internet, and not exactly material for a usual “Friday Fun” post, but I really liked the message:

There was a young woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. So as she was getting her things ‘in order,’ she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. Everything was in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the young woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.

“There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly.
“What’s that?” came the pastor’s reply.
“This is very important,” the young woman continued. “I want to be buried with a fork in my hand.”

The pastor stood looking at the young woman, not knowing quite what to say. “That surprises you, doesn’t it?” the young woman asked.
“Well, to be honest, I’m puzzled by the request,” said the Pastor. Apple Struedel copyThe young woman explained. “My grandmother once told me this story, and from that time on I have always tried to pass along its message to those I love and those who are in need of encouragement. Grandma said that in all her years of attending socials and dinners, she used to remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork.’ That was her favorite part because she knew that something better was coming…like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie with ice cream. Something wonderful, and with substance!  So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, ‘What’s with the fork?’ Then I want you to tell them: ‘Keep your fork ..the best is yet to come.'”

The pastor’s eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the young woman good-bye. He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the young woman had a better grasp of heaven than he did. She had more understanding than many people twice her age, because she knew that something better was coming.

At the funeral people were walking by the young woman’s casket and saw the cloak she was wearing…and the fork in her hand. Over and over, the pastor heard the question, “What’s with the fork?” And, over and over he smiled. During his message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the young woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and about what it symbolized to her. He told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either. I think he was right. So the next time you reach down for your fork let it remind you, ever so gently, that the best is yet to come! Dessert Chocolate Medley copy“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

A Few of My Favorite Birds (13): The Looney Tunes of Loons

Dead River FallsIn Marquette, we lived in a natural wonderland: 50 acres of forest on a ridge above the Dead River. Our living room Our living room overlooked a trout pond, and as the evening shadows fell, Our trout pond water fowl glided across the glassy waters, leaving silver Vs in their wakes. It was a paradise so beautiful I sometimes felt like I’d died and gone to heaven. Until—

Full moon on dark night…until I woke up in the middle of one night and heard someone screaming and moaning. I sat bolt upright. Someone was laughing…the most horrible sort of sinister shrieking. Had someone escaped from an insane  asylum…someone being pursued through the forest by an axe murderer?  After coming to my wits enough to solicit for Alan’s aid, we listened together. The mournful howling and eery cackling never seemed to get louder…nor did it quit. Well, at least whoever it was hadn’t been completely killed…just yet. It…sounded more like a ghost, but we didn’t really believe in ghosts as such, at least not dead people suspended as spirits twixt heaven and hell who eternally roamed the woods fleeing evil pursuers. What in the world was it? It was something. Something that haunted the wild North Woods but had never stalked us in southern Michigan.

Want to hear the sounds? Try this: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/common_loon/sounds

Loons signYep, Looney Tunes was so named for a good reason, and when people talk about “looney birds,” they’re suggesting that people are as crazy as the looney birds: Loons.  Truly, loons aren’t crazy. They are actually outstanding communicators, with four distinct types of calls to convey meaning. The high, wavering tremolo that sounds like insane laughter is the call of alarm. (They must get really nervous some nights. Of course, there were bears in our woods.) Their haunting wail that almost sounds like a wolf howling is actually used by mates to help locate each other across the misty waters on dark nights. The yodel (which I interpreted as a scream) is only made by the males. The yodel is used to defend  territory and frighten off would-be competitors. (Great tactic. I bet it works!) The last call, a hoot, is not the least bit eery. It’s most often used by chicks and parents to keep connected and is the “hi!” of the looney’s tunes. DSCN6337 Now that I understand what’s going on and can interpret their sounds, I’ve grown to love hearing loons and listen with different ears. Rather than an eerie, haunting howl, it’s an “enchanting melody” I hear when the mates call for each other through the black of midnight.  When a male screams, I’m not afraid; he’s bravely driving off dangers in the night! Loons and gulls Loons winter in warmer areas like the Gulf of Mexico, but around April they come to the far northern part of the U.S.  They are beautiful aquatic birds. Both the male and female are black and white  with red eyes, webbed feet, and long, sharp bills…smaller than a goose but larger than a mallard. Loon coming up from dive They’re faithful mates, have 1-2 chicks per season, and have been known to live up to 30 years! 8.8.14 Loon. Marquette I’ve seen them around Mackinac Island and many times in the Upper Peninsula, including our last trip to Marquette a few weeks ago, but I’ve never gotten a really good picture. Perhaps this is partly because loons are somewhat nocturnal. Loon diving They’re also great divers! They can hold their breath up to 90 seconds while fishing underwater, and they’re hard to photograph because they tend to come up a long way from wherever they went under…and then disappear again before I can find them, zoom in, and focus! Rhonda C Loons However, this summer when my friends Dan and Rhonda C. were on a houseboat in Minnesota, they caught the above picture of a loon family, which they’ve graciously allowed me to share with you. Loon at a distanceIs it possible that there are people in our world who are like loons? Dark, distant, hard to catch…hard to understand? I’m sure there have been people who tried to communicate with me, but because I totally misunderstood, I became frightened. Anyone in your life who’s been screaming and howling? Maybe they’re just trying to keep in contact during a long, confusing nighttime in life. May we take the time to understand and learn to love those who are calling out to us!

“Two are better than one: because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falls; for he has not another to help him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

“Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings.
(Psalm 61:1-4)




It’s a Done Deal

Young's Literal TranslationEvery year Alan and I try to read through the Bible together, and often we choose a different version just for the sake of comparing ideas, considering nuanced meanings, and sometimes getting a completely new take on a verse. If the meaning seems quite different, we research the ideas against our Greek originals and/or our gold standard texts, which for me is the Authorized King James Version and for Alan the New International Version. Although I’d probably be happy simply reading the King James’ version 50+ times, Alan really likes the various translations to keep his interest, and I will say the exercise does make the readings more lively and keeps me thinking (wanting to be a good Berean…who “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” [Acts 17:11]). Often we do find fresh insights that strike us in a new way, and it definitely enhances our overall experience of meditating daily on our spiritual bread of life!

Since Alan and I made it through the Holman Standard Christian Bible in record time this year, we’ve already started reading a new (to us) version: Young’s Literal Translation. This Bible is actually an old translation! It was written back in in 1898 by Robert Young, who also compiled Young’s Analytical Concordance (a standard reference book for serious students of the Bible throughout my youth; for instance, I asked for a copy for Christmas when I was at Grace Seminary). Because I have such respect for Young’s scholarship and integrity, I happily seconded the motion with a hearty “Amen!”  when Alan suggested that we try Young’s Literal Translation next.

We’re now in Leviticus, and it’s taken me that long to really get the hang of reading it aloud and feel confident about recommending it. It’s in the archaic (but beautiful) language of jolly old England during the reign of King James, so my tongue loves this, and the “thees” and “thous” roll off with no problem. However, Robert Young went to great pains to make his translation as absolutely literal as he could, so instead of writing to suit modern notions of appropriate verbal tense consistency, Young wrote his text with the intention of preserving the exact tenses and word usage as he found them in the original Hebrew and Greek writings. This means I have to think about every word. No mental drifting!

For example, this is Leviticus 23:39-41 concerning the Feast of Booths:

39 `Only — in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, in your gathering the increase of the land, ye do keep the feast of Jehovah seven days; on the first day [is] a sabbath, and on the eighth day a sabbath;

40 and ye have taken to yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palms, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of a brook, and have rejoiced before Jehovah your God seven days.

41 `And ye have kept it a feast to Jehovah, seven days in a year — a statute age-during to your generations; in the seventh month ye keep it a feast.

Does this strike you as odd? In modern English, we would instruct someone to do something in the imperative voice, “Do this…” or the future tense, “You shall do thus and so…” When God gave instructions to his Hebrew children, it was written as if it had already happened! “Ye have kept it.” You have already taken the branches. It’s a done deal!

This one insight alone has made Young’s Literal Translation especially precious to me. God is the ageless, eternal One. Yesterday and tomorrow blend. Forever is and was and shall be, but it’s also now, and what shall be has already happened. That’s why He can look at us and say we’re spotless; that’s how we can look at each other and say, “You’ve just perfect!” Not because we are, but because we will be someday, thanks to the death of  Christ for us and the work of the Holy Spirit within us!

“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”
Revelation 4:8

“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
(Isaiah 57:15)