Samuel at 37 Weeks: Fellow Travelers and Traveling On

Two sets of parents with preemiesLast week I told you the story of a little preemie who remembered smelling God holding her while she was in her isolette. This week I’d like to tell you a little bit about another couple, Don and Melissa, and  their sweet boy, D. J.D.J. and Samuel Although D.J. and Samuel were born 10 days apart, they’ve been roomies ever since, and last week both boys hit the 4 pound mark on exactly the same day! There was a lot of celebrating to commemorate that landmark. Way to go, guys!  🙂Two moms with tiny preemiesBrianna and Melissa have become good friends from daily caring for their infant sons, and they’ve enjoyed many opportunities to encourage one another, compare notes, & share the ups and downs of life along their perilous journeys.37th PreemieIn many ways, there’s been continuing progress in both boys,Pretty limp little customerbut, while D.J. seems to be on track for getting to go home before too long,Daniel supporting baby's chinthe doctors found a very worrisome problem with Samuel’s eyes…Transport Isoletteso much so that Samuel had to be transferred to DeVos Children’s HospitalPreemie's footto be prepared in case he needs emergency laser surgeryPreemie with Dadto (hopefully) keep him from developing retinal detachment in his eyes.  Mother holding preemie Thankfully, Mama has been right with him all the time to help him feel safe (although the transition has been hard on her as well!), Father holding babyand Daddy watches over him every day as soon as he gets off work. Sameul at 2 monthsSo far, Samuel hasn’t had to have surgery, but I’d really appreciate your prayers for his eyes (and lungs) to mature and become completely healthy so that he can go home someday without needing surgery. (Healthy beats a risky repair.)Holding preemie's handAt  frightening times in our lives, isn’t it wonderful to enjoy the company of fellow pilgrims, and best of all…to know there’s a compassionate God  (our heavenly Father) who watches over us and knows our trials.Baby SamuelMy frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.”
(Psalm 139:15-16, NKJV)

Travel Plans for 2015: Have You Been in Cahoots Yet?

Okay, so here’s for Friday Fun…another zany forward. I have no clue who wrote it, but I thought it was cute enough pass along and might inspire some happy imagining about places you’d like to visit… Sun over wing of Airplane copy (Of course, the above picture is mine…but I’ll leave it to your imagination to guess where…I’ll just tell you that I’m in Transit at the moment!)

“I have been in many places, but I’ve never been in Cahoots. Apparently, you can’t go alone. You have to be in Cahoots with someone. I’ve also never been in Cognito. I hear no one recognizes you there. I have, however, been in Sane. They don’t have an airport; you have to be driven there. I have made several trips there, thanks to my friends, family and work. I would like to go to Conclusions, but you have to jump, and I’m not too much on physical activity anymore. I have also been in Doubt. That is a sad place to go, and I try not to visit there too often. I’ve been in Flexible, but only when it was very important to stand firm. Sometimes I’m in Capable, and I go there more often as I’m getting older.
One of my favorite places to be is in Suspense! It really gets the adrenalin flowing and pumps up the old heart! At my age I need all the stimuli I can get! I have not yet been in Continent, and I don’t remember what countries were on it. It’s an age thing. They tell me it is very wet and damp there, so I really don’t want to visit any time soon. ALSO, PLEASE DO YOUR PART! Today is one of the many National Mental Health Days throughout the year. You can do your bit by remembering to share this with at least one unstable person. My job is done! Life is too short for negative drama and petty things. Laugh insanely, love truly and forgive quickly! Well, that forgiveness part is up to you!!!–”

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are
in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1)


Towering Pines and Saplings

Towering Parents and saplingsWhile in Fort Wilderness, Alan and I were captivated by the abundant pine saplings flourishing around the feet of their towering parents. Mangroves in swampy area This was totally untrue of the mangroves. In fact, pine saplings—and not young mangroves—were growing up even around the roots of the mangroves! Growing Pine saplingsI never investigated to figure out the reasons, although I’m sure it probably has something to do with soil conditions, climate, water levels, hardiness of the 2 species…you know…all the usual suspects, as well as maybe other factors that I know nothing about, aren’t obvious, or are unique to this situation. Tall Pines in Florida But, what struck me was that the ground was covered by a soft layer of needles and cones, so whatever else was going on, the parent pines were doing a few things right: They were scattering lots of seed, they were growing straight and tall, and they were leaving plenty of room in the sun for their offspring.Cluster of Pines in Fort WildernessJust like these old pines, as we try to nurture our children, there are many things we can’t control. There are circumstances that are unique to our situation and variables that we can’t even understand. However, there are a few things we can do right: We can scatter abundant seeds of truth and leave a soft cushion for those who want to grow up near us; we can grow straight and tall ourselves; and, instead of casting  dark shadows that shut out the Light, we can leave lots of room for the next generation to find their place in the Son!

“Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table” (Psalm 128:3).


Losing Weight (5): Are you Losing Weight, or Losing Out?

LWI love to organize. Do you? Have you noticed that it’s much more fun to develop a plan than it is to carry it out? There’s something creative and energizing about dreaming up what you want to do, but the day-to-day grind of working out all the details and actually finishing some project isn’t nearly so captivating. I am sure one reason I enjoy blogging is that writing discreet essays on various subjects is much easier than planning and completing an entire book.

The same is true of working on weight loss. Planning a diet that might work is the fun part. Actually dieting is never fun, or easy, and it’s always tempting to just give up and go back to the age-old strategies of trying to “eat less and enjoy it more” or simply “watching what we eat” (which—if you’re like me—never works for long enough). At Calvary, our pastor is teaching on the book of Hebrews, and I was very inspired by his thoughts on Hebrews 10:32-36, where he discussed strategies for how to get past the hard times on our spiritual journeys when we feel like we just can’t (or don’t want to) keep going. I’ve extrapolated some from his thoughts, but let me share a few ideas. When you’re weary and want to quit~

*Look Back: “Call to remembrance the former days…” (Hebrews 10:32). Remember what it was like before you resolved to change. What was it like? Why did you decide to change? I recall that I’ve been overweight for more than 10 years, and that it’s not only negatively affected my energy level but also the way I feel about myself.

*Look Up: “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me” (Isaiah 46:9) God has always been, He has always loved us, and He always desires our best. If we’re convinced that losing weight is a good thing and God’s will for us, then “this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he hears us: and if we know that he hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:15). Ask, believe, and just keep asking for grace to follow through until we finish the job and reach our goal!!

*Look ahead: “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which has great recompense of reward” (Hebrews 10:35). What do you hope for as a result of losing weight? Increased vitality and health? A more attractive appearance? A coupon from your husband good for a trip around the world for two? (Well, we can always wish, can’t we? Although—I have to admit—my husband has offered no prize. Losing weight really needs to be about doing what’s right, honoring God, and providing for our own well-being, not simply pleasing others, although being a healthy weight will certainly be more pleasing to others.)

As the president of my Alma Mater used to say, “Let’s just keep on keepin’ on!”

“For you have need of patience, that, after you have done the will of God, you might receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:36).




Could Anything be Better than the Magic Kingdom?!

Stephen and Joel at Magic KingdomDisney’s Magic Kingdom has been described as “the happiest place on earth,” and the fact that it’s  the world’s #1 paid tourist attraction (with Disneyland #2) lends some credence to their claim , especially if you believe  money talks! Blue and Pink Flowers at Disney 1.6.15 The Magic Kingdom is a combination of delightful rides and gorgeous grounds, and everyone goes there to enjoy life and bond with loved ones…
so of course it’s a happy place! What’s not to love?  🙂Cindarella's Castle at Night Last Tuesday I mentioned many of the best rides in the park for tots, but this week I want to share some pictures from our last trip to the kingdom at night, Magic Kingdom Train Station because it really does seem magical in the evening when all the lights come on, Disney's Main Street at Nightand at Christmas time—when the park is aglow with special decorations and alive with people celebrating Christmas— it seems the most magical of all! Tomorrowland at NightWith many of the littlest ones off to bed, the pace slows to more: more quiet, more strolling…more time enjoying the interplay of colors, lights, and sound. Magic Kingdom CarouselPeople still continue with the rides and fun, but there’s an almost breathless sense of expectation as everyone awaits the grand finale: “Disney Wishes,”Cindarella's Castle Illuminated JPG which is an incredibly spectacular laser, light, music and fireworks extravaganza where Disney extends the hopes that “all our wishes will come true.”Fireworks in blue at DisneyI have to confess, in our 40-50 times of taking the kids to the Magic Kingdom,  we were always among those parents who hoisted their babes shoulder top
(not wanting them to miss anything!) and then had to lug them home whilst visions of starlight and starbright exploded and danced across their dreams,Grand finale fireworks at Disney Wishes and I was ever grateful for our 3 older sons, who eventually helped carry our 3 younger sons home on such enchanted evenings! Cindarella's castle frosted in lightsOf late, some 200,000 lights make Cinderella’s castle look like it’s been dipped in sugar…sugar-coated dreams! Sounds just about perfect, doesn’t it?

Fireworks over Cinderella's CastleNow, I’m not contesting the beauty and pleasure of the Disney experience,
and  we’ve probably taken our kids to Disney more often than anybody we know, but I just want you to know that there is a kingdom even greater than the Magic Kingdom, and that’s the Kingdom of God. Disney WishesThere’s also something infinitely more effective for finding fulfillment than wishing on a star or believing in ourselves, and that’s believing in God and petitioning Him for the grace and strength to enable us to do what we should …and for his miraculous intervention to accomplish what good we cannot. Magic Kingdom Christmas TreeIn addition, there’s a tree more glorious than Disney’s—the cross on which Jesus died to pay for our sins and make it possible for us to become sons of light and children of God…the one, true God who can make all our wishes come true! Potpourri of lights at Disney's Wishes FireworksI’m sorry that the Kingdom of God is not a place I can show you now, although it will be one day. Until that time, God asks us to believe by faith and walk by faith, with the promise that someday our faith will be rewarded by sight, and in the end we’ll find that it is more glorious and more wonderful than any place we’ve ever seen here on earth!

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

Seeking Allah. Finding JesusIf you are a Muslim trying to understand Christians, or if you are a Christian trying to understand Muslims, please please read this book! It’s one of the most profoundly helpful books I’ve ever read on what Muslims believe and what it’s like to grow up as a Muslim in western culture. NabeelQureshi_webbio-1 In this captivating biographical narrative, Nabeel records his happy childhood in a loving Muslim home, where he was completely satisfied in his community of faith. Nabeel also traces his own spiritual search for the one, true God during his adolescence, college and medical school days, leading the reader step-by-step to understand what he learned about the historical Jesus and the historical Muhammad…the contrasts in both their character and teachings, as well as the major tenets of both theologies.

It’s completely beyond the scope of this post to summarize the material, but I can’t recommend highly enough this scholarly but touchingly personal account of one man’s pursuit of spiritual insight. It was recommended to me by a dear friend from France who reaches out to Muslim immigrants there, and I couldn’t help but notice the warmth and sincerity in Nabeel, who not only wrote but reads the audio version of this book…his deep love for his family and Muslim heritage, and the wisdom he shares as he prayerfully worked his way through all the issues that both unite and separate Muslims and Christians. Think about it! These are the two greatest religious systems in the world, both stemming from Abraham, and combined they account for over half the world’s population—religious and non-religious! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if both Muslims and Christians could agree on “Who is the One, True God?”? Come to think of it,  I recommend this book to everybody—even those of you who embrace no faith. The book is just way better than green eggs and ham!

“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

(P.S.—Very sorrowfully, Nabeel passed away in September, 2017. Here’s the tribute written up in Christianity Today if you’re interested:  )

Rise Up, My Love (121): Love Like a Mighty Geyser

Blenheim Palace GardensSong of Solomon 4:12 “…a fountain sealed.” As a garden speaks of beauty and fruitfulness, and a spring speaks of refreshment and purity, so a fountain speaks of overflowing abundance. The Hebrew for fountain is ayin, which has been translated, “eye,” and in this context means “a place of flowing tears,” or “a place where the earth weeps” (Carr, The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary, 124). That reminds me of a beautiful cliff called “The Weeping Wall” on the Road to the Sun in Glacier National Park, Montana. There is one area where a constant spray of water cascades down such a wide stretch of the rock face that the entire mountain side appears to be “weeping.” When my husband and I saw it gleaming in the brilliant morning sunshine, it danced with rainbows! Old Faithful EruptingA fountain is very beautiful…and powerful. By its very nature, a fountain gushes like a geyser; it wells up from within the earth under pressure and cannot be stopped! Have you seen Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park or some of the magnificent mud pots and fountains in Geyser National Park? We sat shivering in the snow with our children one early May morning, waiting for Old Faithful to erupt. We had not anticipated such cold weather, and we weren’t dressed very warmly. The younger children had to be persuaded to stick it out instead of running back to the comfort of our room at the Old Faithful Inn! But, when Old Faithful finally blew, waves of hot steam rolled out and streams of boiling water exploded into the sky. It was an awesome sight—one the children will never forget. The display of heat (which felt good…while it lasted) and energy was truly memorable! Fountains are beautiful and powerful…full of heat and energy. Most faithful geyser in Yellowstone“Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth” (Proverbs 5:18). The imagery of the fountain in this passage is used metaphorically of marital sexuality. Indeed, could there be any more appropriate metaphor to describe the heat and energy…the beauty and power…the building tension and eruption? “Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth.” A stunning imperative! Delight in that which is most delightful. God has created it all for us, His gift to us as a foreshadowing of the greater fulfillment and perfection of unity that is yet to come. Pools in YellowstonePerhaps this would be a good time to meditate briefly on God’s gift in sex. Sex has many purposes in marriage and is far, far more than simply the means of procreation. In the Criswell Study Bible (p. 773), at least five other important aspects are mentioned: knowledge (Genesis 4:1), unity (Genesis 2:24), comfort (Genesis 24:67), relaxation (Song of Solomon 4:10-5:1), and avoidance of temptation (I Corinthians 7:2-5) . In a healthy marriage, the husband and wife should both take as their sacred privilege the responsibility of providing for one another’s sexual needs, and they should not withhold their bodies from one another (I Corinthians 7:3-4). (Given the horrible perversions in our world, I want to add that husbands need to love their wives in such a way that their wives desire [as opposed to feeling “required/forced”] to bring them pleasure.) In many marriages, the husband needs physical intimacy more often than the wife actually senses a need, but it is my earnest hope that wives will extend themselves as much as possible to bless their husbands with physical intimacy.

A sealed fountain speaks of one that is kept pure and secured so that not one drop of water escapes without the owner’s direction. This is of paramount importance both in marriage and in our relationship to Christ! The Holy Spirit, which is the spring within us and shoots like a fountain from our heart, is sealed. The overflow of God’s love within us is sealed by Christ for his purposes, so that he can direct our every expression of love to whomsoever he pleases…to himself first, and to others only as he chooses. In marriage, the fountain of our physical love—our sexuality—is sealed unto our spouse. We are to be pure and chaste, kept always only for that one who by covenant has been promised our body ’til “death do us part.”

(I took the first picture, which is of Blenheim Palace, as part of my blog series on Britain [R’n’R’s in B’n’B’s]. The pictures of Yellowstone National Park were taken during a family reunion back in 2011.)

Are You Keeping Current with Your Vaccinations?

Lunch sack in refrigeratorAlan and I had a visit with the travel nurse, because we’ll be going on a trip this spring that requires  a bunch of vaccinations. I got a shot in each arm, which makes them a bit sore, but the trickiest medication is for typhoid fever, which is a live vaccine that has to be kept in the refrigerator and is to be taken every other day first thing in the morning with a glass of water and then NO FOOD for at least an hour. No tea to sip while we read our Bibles together?? How sad. 😦

The nurse told us about one mother who slipped the bag (filled with medicine for her entire family) into her purse, promptly forgot about it (—who wouldn’t with a bunch of little kids to distract you?—) and found it 5 days later. The medication is very expensive as well as a “live” vaccine, and so it was no longer potent. The distraught mother had to throw it all out and buy more. The nurse also warned us against forgetting even one day’s dose, saying that if we missed even one day, we had to start all over from the beginning with a new batch. Picky, picky!!

On the other hand, Alan and I definitely don’t want to catch typhoid fever, so we’ve been keeping our medication in the very front of the top shelf of our frig. That way, I have to move it 10 times a day and therefore remember it at least 10 times a day. Because we tend to be forgetful (especially first thing in the morning, or if Alan gets up super early and leaves), I’ve also been putting out a sign that says “MEDICATION” on our bathroom counter the night before we have to take it. And, just this morning…we’ve completed our course! 🙂

There’s something much worse than typhoid fever, and that’s losing your very soul. Maybe some of you don’t even believe you have a soul, and you might be partially right. The Bible teaches that when we are born, our spirit is dead and needs to be brought back to life through faith in Christ: “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). And, how can we be born again? “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Peter 1:23). We are born again to spiritual life and awareness when we take in, believe, and act on God’s Word.

But what about those of us who do believe? Can we lose our spiritual vitality? You bet we can, and most of us do from time to time. What should we do? May I suggest ingesting the Bible routinely, and even more intentionally and carefully than those of us who are trying to avoid such contagious diseases as hepatitis and typhoid fever? In 1 Corinthians 9:27 Paul said, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” If you “just forget,” maybe you could try keeping your Bible on the top shelf of your frig, or posting a note by your tooth brush. 🙂   A daily dose of meditating on God’s Word will really help protect us from catching the world’s spiritual diseases and help us in the fight to keep our souls healthy!

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)


The Beauty of Transparency

Bay LakeNot long ago Alan and I were hiking along the back shore of Bay Lake in Florida just as the sun was coming up, and I was struck by the unusual colors and patterns reflecting off the surface of the water. It was so beautiful that I stood in awe that anything so mucky could look so mesmerizingly attractive. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to go wading through the muck to take a morning dip in Bay Lake (there are warning signs against anyone attempting to swim because of the pollution), but it looked almost enchanting, like something out of a fairy tale, and I could almost envision a magical frog popping up to chat. Stirrup CayWhat a contrast to Stirrup Cay, where I’d been snorkeling just a few weeks prior! There I could see through the depths to the bottom of the glistening pool,  Looking into clean waterand it was exciting to plunge into the cool, crystal-clear water. No muck, no yuck, no unexpected monsters or poisonous snakes lurking beneath the water.  I could see exactly what was there & where I was going, and the swim was sheer delight! Bay Lake around the back edgeAre there any people in your life who are mesmerizingly attractive to you but completely opaque? I learned the hard way that if someone seems to be a black box, they usually are. If you can’t see into them, it’s doubtless because they are troubled souls who need your concern, but not your devotion. America’s first president, George Washington, warned: “Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.” May we recognize muddied waters and reach out to help, but not to enter into an intimate relationship, lest instead of meeting an enchanted frog we’re suddenly confronted by a monster, bitten by a poisonous snake, or dragged under the muddy waters.

“Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
(2 Timothy 2:22)

Weight Loss (4): Defining Moments Happen at the Wall

“Every defining moment of my life began at a wall…these walls ultimately made  me better with this caveat, if I responded properly at the wall.” Brad PowellWall in JerusalemI’ve coincidentally heard 3 messages about “hitting the wall” this week, so I think the Lord may be suggesting that not only I, but my fellow weight loss partners, might be hitting a wall. Have you hit one yet? I went 4 days of working hard without apparently losing any weight, and then the next day I was up a half a pound instead of down! 😦 I was so discouraged! However, yesterday I was down and today I was happily surprised to be down a whole pound.

If you’re struggling to keep on track on your weight loss journey, may I encourage you with some quotey-thoughts (as in, I tried, but the quotes are doubtless partly paraphrases) I learned from Brad Powell’s inspirational message, drawn from the life of Jacob? (If you’ve got time for the entire message, which is well worth the time!)

There’s only one thing we can do at the wall if we want to get through: Wrestle. We tend to wrestle with ourselves, with others, with our circumstances…and ultimately with God, because we know that God is all-powerful and could stop our problems if he wanted to. We also struggle with evil. Ephesians 6:12 teaches that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” At the wall Satan loves to show up and tempt us to stop trusting God. It’s all too easy to forget what God has told us, that we’re fearfully and wonderfully made; that He has a plan for us; that He can take all our problems and turn them into something good. If we listen to the wrong voice, we’ll make the wrong choice. Keep in mind and embrace these truths: God uses the wall to get us where He wants us, which is where we’ll find joy and contentment…where we’ll live up to being what He wants us to be. The second truth is that Satan wants to use the wall to keep us from getting where God wants us to be. Whose voice will we listen to, and who’s going to win at the wall? All too often, we wrestle with ourselves based on Satan’s deception, not God’s truth. Psalm 13 is a beautiful picture of the way David, and Jacob, and you and I often feel as we hit a wall.Prayers stuffed in Western Wall We need to keep trusting God at the wall like Jacob, who cried out, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26, NKJV). Don’t be willing to surrender to defeat, keep believing that it’s worth the effort to get through the wall and don’t give up. Let’s give everything we can to break through. Notice what Jacob did: he prayed, he obeyed, he went home, he worshiped God, he honored God, he did everything he could, but ultimately he kept holding on to God, knowing that only God could deliver him from an army of 400 men!Road Through Wall around Jerusalem Once God takes us through the wall, we need to embrace our new reality. We never come away from the wall the same as we were before. Life is different. Jacob always had a limp afterward, but he wasn’t bitter. He used the lessons to make him a better person. When God takes us through the wall, we need to rest up, and then get ready for the next wall! Life is a marathon, because as long as we’re alive, we’ll be hitting walls. “Making the choice to trust God with yesterday’s wall isn’t enough. If you want God to get you where He wants you, you have to make the choice to trust him today and every day.”

How about you and me? Will we put our trust in God and allow our next wall to become a positively defining moment in our lives?

5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and depart from evil.
It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones.”
[and hopefully some weight loss while we’re at it! 🙂 ]
Proverbs 3:5-8 (NKJV)

(The pictures are from my trip to Israel. The first one shows the Eastern Wall, which has been sealed by the Jews as they await their Messiah’s coming [as do we Christians, although we believe it will be His return]. The second picture is of prayers that have been stuffed into the cracks of the Western Wall [“Wailing Wall”], which is the closest place Jewish people can get to the Holy of Holies in the Old Temple. The third picture is of one of the roads leading through the wall around Jerusalem.)