Haikus from Asia for April’s NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writers Month)

Cherry Festival Soyosan Mt.In honor of April being National Poetry Month, I’ve written a series of hiakus commemorating our visit to South Korea and Japan last April during their cherry blossom festival. We went primarily to visit our son Michael and his family, but we were delighted and awestruck by the beauty and cultural diversity (and similarities) in Asia! The first set of hiakus recall our visit to Soyosan Mountain, which is famous for it’s bubbling streams and waterfalls, although there had been a drought before we visited and the riverbed was almost dry.

Soyosan Mt.#1.  Soyosan MountainSoyosan Mountain PathDressed in cherry blossom frills Cherry Blossom Festival Soyosan Mt.You are beautiful!

Soyosan Mountain#2.  Rocky river bed Dried up waterfallDry…waiting for monsoon rains, Soyosan StreamWill you sing again?

Sun Behind Cherry Blossoms#3.   Sun and sky above, Hillside Soyosan Mt.Earth and flowers here below. Magnolias and Cherry BlossomsWhich is more lovely?

 “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).

Singapore’s Beloved Leader; Lee Kuan Yew’s Beloved Singapore

Lee_Kuan_YewIn case you (like me) are not totally current on contemporary world history, let me share with you what I’ve learned recently concerning Lee Kuan Yew and his beloved country, Singapore, highlighted by pictures I took of Singapore on the day of their beloved leader’s death. Landing in Singapore Although we didn’t know it at the time, Alan and I were touching down in Singapore on an Airbus 380 (the world’s largest class of jet) at 3:18 am. Monday morning, March 23…at exactly the same time that Singapore’s revered 91-year-old statesman, Lee Kuan Yew, was expiring nearby after an extended battle with pneumonia. Singapore Waterfront Alan and I felt greatly privileged to visit Singapore during their time of mourning, while the entire world reflects on the life of this “legendary figure in Asia” (UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon) and “ true giant of history” (Barack Obama), who is almost unique in the world for his accomplishment: “Lee personally shaped Singapore in a way that few people have any nation” (UK Prime Minister David Cameron). Lee_Hsien-Loong As the current Prime Minister (his son), Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged, “He fought for our independence, built a nation where there was none, and made us proud to be Singaporeans. We won’t see another man like him.” Little India Flower MarketIn brief, Lee Kuan Yew (an ethnic Chinese, Cambridge-trained lawyer) became the Prime Minister of Singapore in 1959 at a time when the tiny island city-state nation (which even today is only 5.3 million people and 714 sq. kilometers [the size of Chicago] at the bottom of the Malay Peninsula…quite a bit of which was built by buying dirt from Indonesia!) was a British territory embroiled in polyglot strife and without natural resources. Merlion Park Through visionary leadership, Lee led the nation to independence from both Great Britain and Malaysia and transformed the tiny Third World country into First World status during his 31-year tenure. Singapore from Swishotel For more than 50 years, Lee has been one of the most influential statesmen in Southeast Asia, and he is greatly beloved by his people. As our travel guide shared, Lee Kuan Yew is regarded as the “Father of Singapore.” She explained, “He ruled with an iron hand, but we loved him because he turned our country around; he made us hard-working, clean-living, and prosperous. He made us what we are today.” Thian Hock Keng Temple She went on to explain that Singapore has no tolerance for drugs, laziness, or capital crimes, which are punishable by being beaten with a bamboo cane, hanging, or shooting by a firing squad. Therefore, there is extremely little crime and less than 2% unemployment. Government welfare assistance is only for the elderly, infirm, or mentally disabled. Singapore Harbor Singapore now vies with Hong Kong for the world’s busiest harbor! The nation has become even more prosperous than either Great Britain or America (per capita). The more our tour guide explained, the more I marveled that any one person could, by merit of his wise and charismatic leadership, so utterly and quickly transform an entire nation! National Orchid Garden. SingaporeTo me, Lee Kuan Yew is perhaps the current world’s most apt (albeit imperfect and limited) foreshadowing of Christ, who is promised to return some day, rule with “a rod of iron” (Revelation 2:7), and restore, not just 714 km, but the entire world to it’s original splendor as a garden home of peace, beauty, and righteousness. I can’t wait! However, God tells us to “occupy until I come,” and I believe that means he wants all of us to be working just as hard as we can to make this world a better and more beautiful place, just like the Singaporeans,  Singapore. Our Gardenwho have taken up the challenge: “Let’s make Singapore our garden.” I applaud the people of Singapore, but would also like to challenge the rest of us: “Let’s make this world our garden.” May God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven!Orchids around Fountain

“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away, and he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.” (The Bible, Revelation 21:3-7)

(I took all these pictures in Singapore on the day of Lee Kuan Yew’s death, except the two portraits of Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong, which are from Wikipedia.)

Bless Your Baby (Fourth Week)

  1. Following the LightLooking at the light“Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world: Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”
    John 8:12 (NIV)

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for being the light of the world and the light of my life! Please become the light of Baby’s life too. May we walk in the light, as you are in the light, and enjoy fellowship with other believers. Thank you that if we walk in the light of faith in Christ, then your blood will cleanse us from all sin (I John 1:3,7).

THOUGHT: Lights fascinate. Use soft lights to attract Baby’s attention.

ACTIVITY: Never shine a bright light into your child’s eyes, but you can hold up a shiny object like a nightlight. Put it several feet in front of Baby’s face until Baby sees it. Then, very slowly, move it in various directions, letting Baby’s gaze follow. You can do the same thing with your finger or by holding up a teddy bear or other interesting object, such as a multicolored party favor or even a stick wrapped in shiny aluminum foil. (These are only toys for Baby to see, not handle!) Try standing about one foot away at first, but then move slowly backward and see if Baby’s eyes can follow you. Try moving the object very slowly up over Baby’s head and down towards Baby’s feet, from side to side in a 180° arc, and then closer and further away, between about six inches and five feet. Within a few weeks, Baby will be able to follow you easily with her eyes.

  1. Becoming a Proficient NurserAndrea and Baby“The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: that if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:8 (NIV)

PRAYER: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the milk of your Word, the Bible, which teaches us how to be saved and grow in our faith. Our access to your word is as abundant as a mother’s milk gushing out. Help us never to take your word for granted or spit it out the way Baby sometimes spits out a nipple! May our drive to take in the Bible be as strong as Baby’s persistent cries when he needs milk, and may we grow as rapidly as our little one!

THOUGHT: If your baby is a sleepy nurser, try rubbing his feet and hands, jiggling him, or singing bright songs. If he’s a chowhound…well, just be thankful!

ACTIVITY: You can make a game out of nipple chasing. If Baby accidentally lets go of the nipple, gently take your breast and rub it against his cheek until he finds it again. If he’s playing with you by spitting it out, take your breast and gently bop him on the nose with it, then move it a little out of the way so he has to search to get it back. Keep chow time light-hearted and happy!

  1. Loving Those Who Love UsNewborn visiting with Auntie“We love him, because he first loved us.”
    1 John 4:19

PRAYER: Abba Father, thank you for loving us first. Thank you for all the love you poured out on me before I even knew you existed. As I pour my life into Baby, help me to consider your sacrifices for me. May I grow to love you more deeply, and may Baby come to understand both my love for her and your infinite love for us. Also, please help us share your wonderful love with those around us!

THOUGHT: Truly, being a parent is a tough job! When you find yourself exhausted, frustrated, and impatient, take a minute to consider how hard it must have been for your mom to take care of you, too! Have you thanked her lately? Despite the failures of those who reared us, it’s good to be grateful for the many sacrifices they made so we could survive and have a home.

ACTIVITY: Being with other people is tremendously stimulating for Baby. Affection from friends who are healthy and kind is a mutual blessing, so share love generously! Most importantly, intentionally make opportunities for Baby to interact with her relatives and close family friends. Start making plans for a trip “back home” in the next few months if you can. Baby will get lots of hugs and affirmation just for existing, and you will bring great joy into the lives of those who helped care for you during your youth.

  1. Friendly Smiles Smiles for Grandma“A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
    Proverbs 18:24 (NKJV)

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help us to be true friends: first of all to you, by loving and following you faithfully; second of all to one another in our family, making our home a haven of peace and friendship; and finally to all those around us in the world outside our home.

THOUGHT: Is protecting Baby an activity? Absolutely! You can tell when Baby has had enough handling: he gets fretful and whiney. Doubtless Baby feels totally at home and secure with you, but he will not relax as completely when he’s with someone who’s not a member of his immediate family, and he will have a definite time limit for his ability to smile and enjoy company, especially if they are actively engaging him.

ACTIVITY: When Baby needs “Quiet Time,” but isn’t sleepy, then snuggling him on your lap or cradling him in a front pack is a great way to let him see what’s going on without having to directly engage anyone. My kids love the new “moby wraps,” but there are lots of great products out there, or you could make your own with a long piece of cloth. However you do it, find a way to let Baby rest when he’s done being friendly and needs a break…but make sure he can rest in a way that’s comfortable and doesn’t strain your back!

  1. Balding and Cradle Cap
    Asleep sitting up!“Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving: sing praises on the harp to our God, who covers the heavens with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth, who makes grass to grow on the mountains.”

Psalm 147:7-8, NKJV

PRAYER: Dear Creator, thank you for the clouds and rain; thank you for the grass that grows on the mountains and the hair that grows on Baby’s head! Help me to take care of my child through every change—both normal and abnormal. Guide us into the ways of wisdom and health.

THOUGHT: A common problem in babies is “cradle cap” (seborrheic dermatitis). It appears as thick, yellowish scales on their heads (or other skin surfaces) and is not dangerous, contagious, or the result of bad hygiene, although it looks unpleasant. If you notice cradle cap on your infant, you can try brushing her hair several times daily with a soft-bristled baby brush to loosen the scales, washing daily with mild baby shampoo, and massages to improve circulation, but be sure to discuss treatments with your doctor.

ACTIVITY: Massaging Baby’s head is both pleasant and helpful, whether or not Baby has a skin problem. Use a soft, circular motion with just the tips of your fingers moving in small circles all around Baby’s head and down the back of her neck. Although cradle cap is not normal, balding is! Almost all babies lose at least some of their downy hair, but more often than not it grows back rather quickly.

  1. Hungry Babies and Sore NipplesNewborn playing with fingers 2.15“The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season.”
    Psalms 145:15

PRAYER: Dear Lord and Master, thank you for inviting us to come boldly to the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need! Thank you for hearing my cries and faithfully giving me what I need when you know it’s best. Help me to heal when I’m sick and still be able to care tenderly and patiently for Baby, even as you care for me with such compassionate affection.

THOUGHT: Debates over “how often” aside, babies need to nurse when they’re hungry. The amount of time between feedings has more to do with how much they drank at the last feeding, how active they’ve been, and how fast they’re growing. You can’t spoil babies by letting them nurse whenever they’re hungry, but you may dishearten a hungry child by delaying feedings. Patience in a child is better learned by waiting for pleasures—not necessities!

ACTIVITY: If your nipples are sore from over-nursing, there are ointments to help. Also, try to lengthen the time between feedings a little by making sure you allow Baby to nurse fully on both sides. Between nursings, use a pacifier, a bottle of warm water, or a ride in something that bounces gently or swings. Try distracting Baby with lovely music. Appeal to all Baby’s senses: touching, hearing, seeing, and smelling as well as tasting.

  1. Learning to SleepGJ Newborn“I will lie down and sleep in peace: for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”
    Psalm 4:8

PRAYER: Dear Father of Mercies, thank you for living in a country where there is safety. Even more importantly, thank you for being our true refuge and strength. Thank you that you are our hiding place and the keeper of our souls. Thank you that we can lie down and sleep in peace because you are watching over us. May we always rest in peace because we are resting in your love.

THOUGHT: The less Baby disrupts the comfort and routines of those around her, the happier everyone will be. Daniel, our fifth-born, got so used to activity that he had trouble napping in his crib! When he got tired and really fussy late in the afternoon, I found that the easiest way to get him to sleep was to tuck him into his baby car seat and plunk him down in the middle of the kitchen right where he could watch me fixing dinner and the kids bouncing around everywhere!

ACTIVITY: To help develop Baby’s flexibility, try laying her down for a nap in an unusual (but still safe and warm) place when she is already asleep or nearly so. Help her learn to sleep in various settings and with natural levels of light and sound. Babies can learn to sleep with light and the continuation of routine (but not boisterous) activities, so don’t “baby” your baby too much! Flexibility is a great quality, and you can help her learn.

Prologue to my ArtPrize 2015 Journey: Yes, I’m Going to Enter!

Sunrise. 9.19.13jpgSome of you who know me well may remember how inspired I felt by the sunrise over Grand Rapids on the first day of ArtPrize back in 2013. Sunrise reflected in lake That day, my post described the sunrise as God’s ArtPrize entry, which triggered a desire in me to enter ArtPrize in 2014 with something to honor the glorious displays of God’s creativity from around the world. Sunrise on our lake After working like a beaver to prepare an entry, I discovered in the spring of 2014 that Michael and Grace were preparing for an even more special entry…the entry of their fourth child into this world come September! So, that became our family’s ArtPrize 2014 entry. 🙂paladinDuring nearly the exact dates of ArtPrize 2014, I was in South Korea enjoying the unique and wonderful privilege of being “Nana!” in their family during the birth of my grandson Paladin. No mistaking the timing on that one, so it occurred to me that the Lord must have more to teach me and perhaps a few more pictures to give me before entering. As it stands today, I am preparing to enter a mural of 400 pictures from around the world entitled “From the Rising of the Sun unto the going down of the same the Lord’s Name is to be Praised” (Psalm 113:3). NYC Skyline 1.1.2003As exciting as this project is to me, it will be a lot of work (as you might imagine), and so if—despite my best efforts—there are times when I’m not as constant in blogging, or post at irregular hours, please know that I am trying to walk by faith, which may or may not always allow for a timely post each day over the next 7 months, although I’ll be trying to do so, and I definitely hope to always keep up with weekly Bless Your Baby and Rise Up, My Love posts. Osorno Volcano.May be done?jpg There will also be blogs about ArtPrize progress (since I’ll be too excited to refrain), and I would appreciate your prayers if the Lord brings this outreach to mind. There will be thousands of people who come to ArtPrize, and I would love it if every person’s heart is lifted to praise our great Creator during their visit!

If for any reason you’re interested, here’s the link to the post about God’s Artprize 2013 entry: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/art-prize-2013-gods-entry-sunrise-over-grand-rapids/

and here’s the link to the post about the Armstrongs’ ArtPrize 2014 entry: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/the-armstrongs-2014-artprize-entry/ Sunrise. Dock in lake

A Few of My Favorite Birds (31): Timid Little Titmice?

Tufted Titmouse Fluffed up in coldNo fair-weather friend, the little songbird known as the tufted titmouse Nuthatch rainy fall day is a year-round resident of lower Michigan (where I live) & much of Eastern U.S. Tufted Titmouse in tree 3.13.15Even though they’re one of the few birds with distinct head crests (hence the name “tufted”), don’t be tempted to confuse them with female cardinals,  Female cardinal 2who are a good third larger and have brown with red-tinged feathers as well as very prominent orange beaks.Rainy Fall DayHowever, like cardinals, they can lower their crests so that they don’t show,  Rain-drenched Titmouse 11.6.13which seems to happen most often when they’re wet, Tufted Titmouse with seed; crest down anxious, or in a hurry….and that seems to be much of the time! Tufted Titmouse Back 1.15.10Unlike cardinals, the little tufted titmouse has completely grey upper parts, Underside of tufted titmouse white underparts with just a touch of rust color on the flanks,Profile of Titmouse at Bird Feeder  bright black eyes, a short, black beak, and black markings above the beak.  Titmice. Two at feederThe males and females are indistinguishable in size and coloring, Two tufted titmice at feederand like most birds, they are devoted mates and parents. Tufted Titmouse Singing 2.20.15All during mating season, titmice have a clear, whistling chant they useTufted Titmouse singing in tree 3.13.15to call their mates that sounds like, “Peter, peter, peter!…Here, here, here!” Tufted Titmouse 5.13.14They tend to nest in old woodpecker holes or other small tree cavities, and one rather charming aspect of the couple’s relationship is that during the month Titmouse in a Cherry Tree 5.13.14while the female incubates and broods over the young, the male will feed her, but he often gives a cheery call so she’ll come out of the hole to pick up her lunch! Tufted Titmouse in tree. Cold 2.20.15Although the titmouse’s favorite diet is primarily animal rather than vegetable, Tufted Titmouse eating seeds 2.20.15they are inordinately fond of sunflower seeds Tufted Titmouse +1.15.10 and definitely enjoy feasting at or under our feeder. However…Back of tufted titmouseunlike many birds, who will sit contentedly and gorge at the feeder until full,  Tufted titmouse on railingtufted titmice wait patiently for their turn on a railing or nearby tree, Tufted Titmouse 6.28.12 back feathers and when they perceive that the road is clear, Tufted Titmouse+ 6.28.12. Singing they swoop in, Face and under wing Tufted Titmouse 5.13.14 grab a single seed (a sunflower if they can find one fast enough), and thenTufted Titmouse 6.28.12 with food  retreat to a safe distance before cracking it open and devouring its contents. Tufted Titmouse 6.28.12 Dancing 1Their unusual timidity about feeding seems strange, because many bird-lovers think of them as brash, feisty little fellows. Titmouse in flight They are brazen enough to pull hairs right out of small mammals in order to line their nests, so why are they so unable to relax at our feeder? Tufted Titmouse 6.28.12 2Come to think of it, how can we be bold about some things but so antsy about others? A peck here and a bite there…why not sit and feast at the Lord’s table on the Word of God until we’re fully satisfied?Tufted Titmouse+ 9.18.14

I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it…Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!…He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.”
(Psalm 81: 10,13,16)

Are You into Fitness or Fitn’ess?

FitnessHow’s it going? Are any of you with me on this spring training jaunt? I’ve been trying hard, but it ain’t easy (as my father, the English professor, was wont to quip). My life has been more irregular than ever, and I’m not perfectly sure the scale I’m using this morning is accurate, which gives me increased empathy for Maggie, who won’t even be able to buy a scale until her income tax return returns, and Ruth and Bonnie, who travel for a living.  And, what about new moms? Talk about an impossible time to exercise! New moms struggle just to find enough time to sleep and brush their teeth!

There are times when it’s simply not possible to exercise like we know we need to be doing. What then? Well, we can still be wise about choosing what goes into our mouths, right? I’m determined that my spring training program will include fitness over fitn’ess…and I hope you do too!

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV)

The Theory of Everything: Grappling with the Universe

The Theory of Everything MovieThe Theory of Everything is a 2014 dramatized version of the life of Stephen Hawking—who has one of the most brilliant scientific minds since Einstein—and his wife, Jane (Wilde) Hawking. Stephen Hawking It’s rare to have a movie produced during a celebrity’s lifetime that is both accurate (not perfectly, but in essence) and approved, but The Theory of Everything was so carefully researched and crafted that Stephen Hawking not only approved the movie, he even allowed the producer to use his actual voice synthesizer, making people feel like they were seeing the real Stephen Hawking act! Felicity Jones Furthermore, his wife Jane remarked that Felicity Jones (who played Jane’s part) had done a masterful job of learning even her mannerisms and speech patterns. The Theory of EverythingI definitely recommend The Theory of Everything, although it’s absolutely heart-breaking to watch the struggles of a young couple trying to live a life of triumph in the midst of tragedy. Falling in love Stephen was first diagnosed with ALS as a young graduate student at Cambridge University, and despite having a prognosis of only 2-3 years to live, Jane Wilde fell in love and married him! The Theory of Everything marriage In an interview, Jane recalled: “We had this very strong sense at the time that our generation lived anyway under this most awful nuclear cloud—that with a four-minute warning the world itself could likely end. That made us feel above all that we had to do our bit, that we had to follow an idealistic course in life. That may seem naive now, but that was exactly the spirit in which Stephen and I set out in the Sixties – to make the most of whatever gifts were given to us.” Jane Hawking, Stephen Hawking's first wife, at Theory of Everything PremiereI have to confess that by the end of the movie it was really Jane that I most admired…for her faith, her fidelity, and her amazing strength of character for sticking it out as well as she did with a man who was so unable to provide for her physically or even emotionally. At one point, Jane reflected in her memoirs that she was left living in her own “black hole” of loneliness. stephen-hawkingHawking always preferred to be regarded as “a scientist first, popular science writer second, and, in all the ways that matter, a normal human being with the same desires, drives, dreams, and ambitions as the next person.” I believe this is utterly true of all humans, regardless of their physical appearance or disabilities. I remember a dear paraplegic friend in college, who once confided that the highest compliment he ever felt (from an emotional standpoint) was the day some of his friends forgot that he wouldn’t be able to dance. Oh, for the grace to see others the way God does, looking on the heart rather than outward appearances (1 Samuel 16:7). The Theory of EverythingThe movie’s title refers to Hawking’s endless obsession with trying to find a single equation that could explain all existence by uniting the four fundamental forces of nature (as he sees them): the strong force, the weak force, gravity, and the electromagnetic force. He also tried to find a mathematical way to rewind time and understand the beginning of the universe: “Here, time stops. You’ve reached the true beginning of everything. There is no previous time in which the universe could have had a cause. It spontaneously created itself in the Big Bang…I had controversially shown the laws of nature suggest there is no need for a creator or God. The universe just came into existence all by itself.”   I have no clue how he jumps from point A to B in his reasoning, because to me God’s speaking the world into existence coincides perfectly with the Big Bang Theory. However, I know that either believing in a first cause or not believing is a faith principle. Atheists also believe, they just believe there is no God. We all believe something; we just choose what we will believe based on our opinions about the evidence and our personal desire to live by our own direction vs. that of Another.NASA-Can-Stop-Looking-for-Black-Holes-Says-Stephen-Hawking-2Plagued constantly by the slow but unrelenting progression of his disease,  Stephen Hawking wrote in 2006 (more than 40 years after his predicted death): “The victim should have the right to end his life, if he wants. But I think it would be a great mistake. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.”  How true, and he is such an inspiring example to the rest of the world in this! The-Theory-of-Everything I know that Stephen Hawking will never read my blog, but I would like to encourage Stephen in his quest to find—not the illusion of knowledge—but true knowledge, which will answer the riddle of how the universe began and give not only hope while life shall last on this earth, but hope of a glorious future that includes perfect health and an infinity to explore the fascinations of the universe!

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).


Rise Up, My Love (129): Growing a Garden

Crocuses and Siberian Squill4:15     “A fountain of gardens…” Think more with me about how a garden enclosed becomes a fountain of gardens. Do you enjoy gardening? It is a favorite pastime of mine…not because I enjoy the work, but because I love the results! I particularly love perennials, because they come back year after year and multiply. It is springtime out my window now, and there is indeed a “host, a crowd of golden daffodils” edging the driveway and woods…dancing with the hyacinths in the garden and beckoning me down our woodland path. But, this is only a beginning. I know that a parade of tulips and lilacs will follow in May…then peonies…glorious roses and irises in June…a rainbow of lilies in July…roses of Sharon in August, and chrysanthemums in September…supported by daises, delphiniums, holly hocks…on and on! Lilies by the PoolOur yard was not always so lushly adorned. When we first moved in, there was not a garden to be found and hardly a flower blooming! The builders had the modern “low maintenance, shrub only” philosophy. The transformation started with a few bulbs here, and a few sale finds there. My husband put in a big vegetable garden in the field that had once been an asparagus farm. When our toddlers started falling into the swimming pool, my husband and our older sons put up a pretty wooden fence, which I edged with grape vines and blackberry bushes interspersed with flowers. The edge of the lake became a wildflower garden with marsh marigolds, flags, and forget-me-nots transplanted from our previous home. In front of the shrubbery around the house, we planted perennials. Every winter, I paged through seed catalogues and dreamed of what garden to make the next spring. Creeping phlox one spring…blackberries one fall. fairy-land-forest-floorI remember digging wild roses out of the woods and transplanting them along the fence line of our road where they could stretch and breathe in the open sunshine. (And I remember the severe case of poison ivy I developed from those first forays into the woods!) I remember the year there was a wonderful sale on hybrid tea roses, and I spent a day sloshing in the mud and singin’ in the rain while I made a rose garden. I remember all the roses that died out along our garden fence when a neighbor ran a weed whacker along his side of the fence, and the field of daffodils my husband accidentally mowed down. I remember the hosta lilies and bleeding hearts I transplanted into our woods, and the violets and lily-of-the-valleys that made the journey from our trout pond in Marquette to brighten our new swamp..and the delight I found in discovering that our new woods had snowy trillium, spotty yellow trout lilies, and hepatica, just like our woods up north!

I remember the triumphs and defeats, the joys and woes, the successes and failures, and all the lessons learned along the way as we turned our new property into a veritable “fountain of gardens.” There were years of hard work and expense— “blood, sweat, and tears”—that went into (and are still going into) the development of our little piece of property. As I work to transform this bit of earthly sod into our personal Garden of Eden, I am poignantly reminded of how God patiently works in my life to transform it into the beautiful masterpiece he wants me to become.

One of the encouraging things about our gardens is to see the gradual improvement over the years. No, our property isn’t perfect, and no, it isn’t complete. Far, far from it! In fact, the harder we try, the more we see the endless possibilities and overwhelming amount of work that could be done! And yet, it is so much lovelier than it was when we first bought it! When we first bought our home, the woods was nothing but a tangle of wild grapes and poison ivy vines threatening to undo us if we dared to enter the wooded swamp. There were mosquitoes galore, and no way to ford the mucky stream across the bayou into the swamp. Five years later, a lovely wood-chipped trail meanders through the woods, and a little bridge crosses the stream. Some of the beauties that lay hidden there all the time…like the delicate woodland roses…have been dug up and transplanted to a sunny spot here and there where all can enjoy their beauty. How like our Master, who redeems us, makes inroads into our hearts, and finds the gifts that were latent within us, bringing them out into the open for all to enjoy. (And just like our neighbor inadvertently cut down dozens of wild roses, so people will trample many of the spiritual gifts we offer them!) Our front yard in summerCan you see the beautiful parallels? Everything the Lord gives us in this life is to teach us some spiritual truth! Do you have a garden? Let the unending battle with weeds teach you of the unending battle against sin in our hearts. Let the gradual progress encourage you in your own growth. No, our gardens will never be “perfect and complete” in this life—nor will our hearts—but someday…someday we shall be like him in all his glory, for we shall see him as he is! “But until then, my heart will go on singing, until then, with joy I’ll carry on. Until the day, my eyes behold His glory, until the day he calls me home” (Stuart Hamblen).



Bless Your Baby (Third Week)

Baby lifting head15. Heads Up! Lifting Head“Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors;and the King of glory shall come in.”
Psalm 24:7

PRAYER: Dear King of Glory, we lift up our heads and turn our eyes to you! Come in through the doors of our hearts and fill us with your glory, goodness, and grace.

THOUGHT: By now Baby may be trying to lift up her wobbly head and look around. You can help Baby learn to support the weight of her own head by holding her on your lap, supporting her head with your hands, and very gradually relaxing your grip until you sense that she can’t hold her head up anymore and it will bob if you let go. Give her lots of smiling encouragements, and look right at her the whole time.

ACTIVITY: Here is another activity to help strengthen Baby’s neck and back muscles: Practice “sit ups” with her by placing her on a large towel on the bed. Holding the top edges of the towel near Baby’s head, with Baby cupped in the towel like a cradle, slowly lift Baby’s body (waist up), gently moving up and down as if Baby were doing sit-ups. This gives Baby a little practice at using her neck and back muscles, because she will naturally adjust to the movements and may try to go toward you on her own. Smile reassuringly, and make sure no activity session lasts more than a few minutes.

  1. Eye ProblemsOff to doctor for checkup“Let your eyes look straight ahead, and let your eyelids look right before you.”
    Proverbs 4:25 (NKJV)

PRAYER: Dear LORD, thank you for being the God who sees us and cares for us. Help us to be pure in heart, so that we may see you too: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” May we always look straight ahead, our eyes waiting on you, keeping you as center of our attention!

THOUGHT: The cross-eyed stage occurs when Baby is learning about depth perception and coordination. It doesn’t last very long and is perfectly normal. On the other hand, a lid that hangs too low is a serious problem that could result in blindness in that eye and should be discussed with your pediatrician as soon as possible. Also, a “lazy eye” that turns in consistently even after the cross-eyed stage is over needs medical intervention.

ACTIVITY: Probably Baby’s favorite view is you, so lie with your face just one foot away from him (maybe on your bed) and talk to him. Then, slowly move about a foot further away and lie there until you can tell he has refocused and is looking at you. Try singing to him. Then, move another foot farther away, and so on, always giving Baby some reassuring vocal encouragements and ample time to reorient visually. Finally, try moving back towards Baby. When you get very close again, pet his head and caress his cheeks, verbalizing your delight in him!

  1. Greeting the Grandparents Grandpa Time“Children’s children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers.”
    Proverbs 17:6

PRAYER: Dear Father, who is our crown and glory, thank you that you are a God who “sets the solitary in families,” and “brings out those which are bound with chains” (Psalm 68:6). Lord, keep us from ever being so selfish that our family is destroyed and we become like “the rebellious” who “dwell in a dry land.” We are so grateful for our family! Please help us as a family to honor our parents. May we respect and cherish all who are our elders and love and protect all you are younger. Please help Baby to learn to honor her elders, and may we always be worthy of her honor. May we be freed from any chains of sin, and may we live lives of submission to you so that we always experience joyful communion within our home.

THOUGHT: Interaction with loving people is absolutely essential for healthy social and emotional growth, and who is any more likely to love Baby than her parents and grandparents?

ACTIVITY: Have your parents had a chance to bond with Baby? Experiencing the support of family is crucially important, because infants thrive on love and attention. If your parents haven’t visited yet, be sure to invite them to come as soon as possible and skype with them often if you can! If you have no doting parents available, consider adopting an older couple as surrogate grandparents.

  18. Serving God Baby in bunting“Yield yourselves unto the LORD, and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified for ever: and serve the LORD your God.”
2 Chronicles 30:8

PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank you for making yourself known to us, so that we can call you “our God.” May we always be faithful to enter into your sanctuary—your church—and find joy in serving you there, joining with others in worship, fellowship, and ministry.

THOUGHT: If Baby hasn’t been to church yet, but he has been in public places, don’t be afraid to start. Remember, Jesus was at the temple when he was only eight days old! A clean, well-staffed nursery is probably less risky than the general public. Ask your doctor’s advice, pray about it, and be aware that it’s amazingly easy to get out of a good habit…more so than you’d ever suspect.

ACTIVITY: To love, honor, and serve God, consider committing to this practice DAILY:

Determine to follow Christ this day.
Ask God to guide you in all things.
Imbibe Christ through meditating on his Word.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength, and ask him for the grace to love your husband, your children, and others as you love yourself. The happiest people are those who are busy loving and ministering to others.
Yield! Determine to be a positive person and always say, “Yes!” to God. Consider the principles of faith, hope, and love in making decisions.

19. OutingsBaby in car seat“Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them.”
Psalm 126:2

PRAYER: Dear Lord, we praise you for doing such great things for us. Thank you! Help me throughout this day to count my blessings and be filled with joy. Help me to be quick to share you with the world around me and the many who may not know about your love and goodness yet…especially Baby. May she learn from infancy that you are love, light, and life. Please fill our mouths with laughter, joy, and praise!

THOUGHT: Times of light-heartedness are incredibly important for us throughout life. Do all you can to encourage laughter and joy! By the way…are you and your spouse still finding time for fun? It’s easy to become so Baby-centered that your relationship with your mate is neglected, but it’s absolutely essential to everyone’s long-term welfare to keep the marriage healthy and sustained with times of rest, love, and joy.

ACTIVITY: How about an outing…even if it’s just to the grocery store to buy supplies together? Should a two-week-old be out shopping? If the weather is mild, it’s certainly stimulating for Baby’s little brain, but don’t make it so long that it’s too much for her little body. The sooner your family can resume normal activities, the happier you’ll all be! Practice moderation in all things, seek God’s guidance every day, and live life as fully as you can!

20. Befriending NeighborsVisitors“Do not forsake your own friend or our father’s friend, nor go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity; better is a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.”
Proverbs 27:10

PRAYER: Dear Father, whose merciful kindness is great towards us, thank you for the mercy and kindness of good neighbors too. Please help us to be good neighbors and to love our neighbors. Please help Baby to become a bridge to reach others for Christ.

THOUGHT: When you’re both feeling up to it, plan a brief visit with a neighbor, perhaps an elderly widow or a childless single person if there’s one near you. It’s never too early to begin a ministry of cheerful encouragement, and—to older folks especially—babies are like a breath of fresh air. If you have any left-over dessert from last night’s supper, your single neighbor might love a bite!

ACTIVITY: Here’s a little song by Harry Dixon Loes (1895-1965) to inspire goodness:

This little light of mine
“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”

Other verses: Hide it under a bushel, NO! I’m gonna let it shine…
All around the neighborhood, I’m gonna let it shine…
Don’t let Satan pfft- it out! I’m gonna let it shine…
Let it shine ’til Jesus comes. I’m gonna let it shine…”

Also…can a two-week old enjoy blocks? Yes, if they are soft toy blocks that are about two or three-inch, cloth-covered, sponge cubes. Try holding them up one at a time within about a foot of Baby’s face and see if she can focus on them. Put one in his hand and let him try to grasp it. Take his index finger and let it rub gently across the surface of a block. Place some of the blocks in configurations close enough for Baby to see when he wakes.

21. Staring IntentlyLooking up!“As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.”
Psalm 17:15

PRAYER: Dear Father, we praise you for being righteous, good, and perfect. May I always be satisfied with your likeness, which is pure and altogether lovely! Help me to look into your holiness and become more and more like you, so that when Baby looks at me, he sees a beautiful reflection of your glory. I pray that Baby will become like you too, and that he will love and honor you all the days of his life.

THOUGHT: There is nothing more visually appealing to Baby than the faces of his mother and father, and your looks of love along with your tender care will start to build the foundation for his sense of wellbeing and security. When you notice him staring intently at you, study him too! Give him lots of smiles and encouraging coos. Talk to him when you feed him. Remind him often of how much you love him!

ACTIVITY: Try putting a framed picture close enough to the crib for Baby to observe—but not reach—when he wakes from his nap. I used to try to have something just a little different every day for my infant to study when he’d wake up: pictures, dolls, toys, or household items. If you have a stool about crib height, you can put an object on top of the stool just out of reach by Baby’s bed.

Back by (our) Popular Demand: The Birthday Club Signs on for Another Decade

My birthdayCindi, Susan and I started a “Birthday Club” ten years ago to keep our chins up. IMG_4155All three of us had bid teary-eyed farewells to our youngest chicks as they flew off for more expansive scholastic adventures and we ended our tenure as home-schooling moms. 13 copy We quickly noticed that I had a fall birthday, Cindi a winter birthday, and Susan a spring birthday…perfect for celebrating not only the passing of time but the passing of seasons. 2010 60th Our parties were such a hit that we’ve continued them with delighted anticipation ever since, and although we rarely hit the day, we never fail to experience deep pleasure in our adventures as the two non-birthday members develop a plot to surprise and bless our birthday sister! Teepee Tea Party       We’ve pretended to be Indians with a tea party and a teepee in the woods; Cindi, Susan, and Me. 2003jpg we’ve gone Roman toga while feasting on Mediterranean, Victorian for high teas, picnics at the beach, out to fancy restaurants, etc. etc. (as the pictures show). cindi-and-rexs-25th We’ve had so much fun that sometimes we add parties with our spouses. Picnic at Grand Haven In fact, it’s been such a wonderful experience that we’re signing on for 1o more! DSCN8709 (Or, more realistically, I suspect we’ll keep it up until the sad day there’s only one of us left!) Visiting Grace Seminary We haven’t gotten so exotic as to travel more than to another state together, but when Alan and I go adventuring, we often meet couples or groups of women who travel together for fun, and I think we “girls” always dream of such a time when all three couples can travel together to somewhere over the rainbow. Cindi and I at Meijer Garden 03.15 copy Cindi and I were like ships passing in the night this past couple of months, both visiting Maui and Florida…but not at exactly the same week. Almost! img_7601 copy Thankfully, no matter how many years we can continue our Birthday Club, and whether or not we ever get to fulfill our dreams of traveling as a group of 3 couples, we do share the absolutely firm conviction that our last journey will lead us all to heaven and will include eternal fellowship in our Father’s house! Mom's new pics 038 Have you got a group of companions for celebrating life and adventuring together? If not, may I encourage you to think about organizing such a group with one or two of your favorite friends? IMG_3329 copy Have you got plans to meet loved ones in heaven? If not, may I encourage you to think about making plans now? IMG_6408 God invites every person alive on earth today to become his child by faith in his son, Jesus. He wants you to be a part of his Birthday Club by being born again and becoming his son, so that you can live in heaven with the rest of his family whenever you depart this earth. Wanna join in the joy?! The Girls at Meijer GardenFor God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).