Simple Pleasures: Celebrating Anniversaries

Aaron and CarlieHere’s some good news: Despite the hype about marriages disintegrating at breakneck speed, the happy fact is half of marriages are life-long commitments that last about 45 years and don’t end until the death of one of the partners. That’s much better than I thought! Yesterday was my oldest son’s 13th anniversary, and to celebrate, he took his wife out to dinner at the restaurant here in GR where they had their very first date. Geese with goslings Marriage really is hard, because it’s the merger of two wonderful but very different people…and as my spiritual big brother, Pastor Bill says, marriage is between “two self-centered, imperfect people.” Sadly, 40% of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce after only 8 years. Otters playing But, if you’ll just stick it out and keep working on it, the statistics are very much in favor of your learning how to get along, and most people who’ve stayed in the battle report being much happier 5 years later. Chipmunks May I encourage all of you out there to keep at it? After 42 years, Alan and I are both extremely glad we didn’t give up, even though there were definitely times when we felt like it. I think the older you get, the more you appreciate having a mate, despite all the “flights and thuds” that go with it!Geese with goslings 2

“Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6).

Simple Pleasures: Picking Cherries at Robinette’s

Picking Cherries at Robinette's Orchard, GR, MIThis morning was the first day Robinette’s was open for picking cherries, so we were there bright and early! Picking Cherries at Robinette's Orchard, GR, MI. 2 The cherries are gorgeous, and at $1.75 per pound, they’re really a great deal, at least for us in Michigan! Picking Cherries at Robinette's Orchard, GR, MI. 8 For the next three weeks, my life is going to be joyously filled to overflowing with kids and grand kids, which means I won’t be writing much, Picking Cherries at Robinette's Orchard, GR, MI. 6 but I’m hoping to have a few minutes to post a picture or two just thinking about the simple pleasures related to family life, Picking Cherries at Robinette's Orchard, GR, MI. 7 keeping connected with loved ones, and happy news.Picking Cherries at Robinette's Orchard, GR, MI. 3 Carlie said this morning she wished there was a news source where they only print uplifting, good news. Picking Cherries at Robinette's Orchard, GR, MI. 5 I try hard to be one such source, but the true source of “good news” is the Bible, which is filled with encouragements for living and the best news of all:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

Picking Cherries at Robinette's Orchard, GR, MI. 4

Rise Up, My Love (143): Sleeping Beauty?

Sunset over oceanSong of Solomon 5:2 “I sleep, but my heart waketh.” Washed, clean and purified, the bride falls asleep waiting for her Lord and master. Isn’t this our experience? The Lord saves us, makes us beautiful and spiritually fruitful, and then we lose interest in working with him. We grow contented. Oh, we still long for his company…on our terms. We want his fellowship “in bed.” To me, this speaks of private worship, or perhaps even corporate communion in the church, but only where it’s safe, clean, and comfortable! I’ll consider teaching a Sunday school class, but don’t expect me to go down into the slums and teach a good news club. Well, I might be willing to sing at the church…but don’t ask me to go down to the rescue mission. Pass out tracts? Hardly! Well, possibly in the church’s neighborhood, but not down in the red light district! Witness to my neighbor? Maybe sometime I’ll invite him to a special meeting at church, but I sure won’t offer to help him fix his flat tire! And, really, I’m too busy and too tired to do any of these things. Really, I need more sleep at night because my job is too demanding, and my children are so needy. Don’t bother me now…how about in a few years??? until…I’ve worked so hard that I’m burned out. I’m too old. Let somebody younger do it!

“I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh.” Like the lackadaisical church of Laodicea, the pattern of many mature believers individually and corporately…the pattern of wives (and all too often husbands also—but this is not the issue here) in marriage… is to lose the fire of their first love and grow contented, cold, and indolent. “I sleep.”

Sleep is a low state of life. There is no true enjoyment of life in sleep; no exercise of the senses; no outward activity or productivity. The one good aspect of sleep is that it is a time of restoration and recovery…a time to become refreshed and strengthened for future work and experience. There is a time and place for sleep; it is necessary and good, but for the married couple, it is usually and ideally at night, together, in one another’s arms.

If you are a married woman, do you wait up until your husband can go to bed each night so you can go to sleep together? Unless you or your husband has a job which requires working into or through the night, arranging your schedule so that you can spend time together every night at bedtime talking, praying, and exchanging expressions of physical affection before you sleep is one of the most important gifts you can give each other.

Studies reveal that men typically rate sexual fulfillment with an attractive mate as their greatest need in marriage (Harley, His Needs, Her Needs), and a truly satisfying experience requires time and energy! The bride was attractive enough…as revealed by the bridegroom’s pet names for her in verse two and her own description of herself in verses three and five. She was well prepared to receive him joyfully into her arms…well prepared on the outside, but not on the inside. She was a “sleeping beauty!” Pretty to look at, but unwilling to sacrifice herself to meet his needs.

Dear virtuous wife, have you become a sleeping beauty? Full of every good work but saving time to love your husband? Dear saints of God, have we all become sleeping beauties? Washed, pure, and clean, but sound asleep spiritually?


Bless Your Baby (Ideas for Baby’s Seventeenth Week)

Baby exploring face114. Practicing Speech Patterns

“Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.” Psalm 98:4

PRAYER: Oh Lord, our King: Jesus said that even the rocks would cry out in praise if the children of men refuse to do so. May Baby learn to praise you from her earliest days!

THOUGHT: Note from my linguistics-major-from-Stanford niece: “Later on, when children are trying to learn to speak specific words correctly, do not adopt their mispronunciations because they seem cute to you. Keep speaking correctly so the child has proper modeling as she struggles to perfect her own pronunciations.”

ACTIVITY: Some parents only talk in baby talk to their babies; some parents never talk in baby talk to their children. I think there is a room for both! When you coo and repeat sounds that Baby makes, it helps her understand that sounds can be imitated and repeated. She knows you’re interacting with her, and that will often stimulate her to become more verbal. She will also take joy in your “talking” together, which will establish a solid foundation for communication. Speaking to Baby like you would to other adults helps her understand that the sounds you make are meant to communicate with her as well as others, and she begins to get used to the patterns, tones, and rhythms of speech. So, Baby needs both types of communication and profits from both. If you haven’t been up to talking in “infant talk,” how about getting right down into the nitty-gritty of being on her level today and practice making all those cool noises that she can make. Blow some bubbles with your “ba-ba-bas” and show her how to do “ma-ma-ma” and “da-da-da” too.

Reading to Baby115. Give Us This Day our Daily Spiritual Bread

“Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.”
Jeremiah 15:16

PRAYER: Precious El Shaddai, the all sufficient one, our nourisher and sustainer, thank you for the Bible, both the milk of the word to sustain babes in Christ, and the meat of the word to challenge the most mature and intellectually astute believers. May we treasure your words above silver and gold and esteem them more than our necessary food. Order our steps in your Word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over us. Amen.

THOUGHT: Are you reading the Bible to Baby? Of all habits (beyond sustaining physical life), I can’t think of anything more critical than the daily habit of meditating on the Bible and prayer. It is like spiritual breathing—breathing in the Word and breathing out prayerful response. Many call this “daily devotions,” and it is the spiritual feeding habit that provides nourishment for our spiritual life.

ACTIVITY: Of course, Baby won’t understand what you’re saying if you read to her, but including Baby in a short time of Bible reading and prayer every day lays the foundation for this best-of-all, life long habit. Have you already established your own devotional study time? If you have, and it’s while Baby is sleeping, I wouldn’t do anything to change that! But, perhaps you could begin by reading just one verse a day with Baby first thing after feeding and washing up. Or, perhaps you could read this little book together day by day, talking about the verse in particular, your plans for trying to implement any of the ideas you like, and ending by praying the prayer together.

7 weeks. With Lizzie116. Pet Names

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will give some of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” Revelation 2:17 (ESV)

PRAYER: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for names. Thank you for sharing with us in the Scripture some of your names that sparkle like facets of a diamond: Almighty God, Shepherd, King, Creator, Rock, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Author of Salvation, Counselor, Friend, Wonderful, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace, The Bright and Morning Star, Comforter, Teacher, Jesus Christ, Lord of Lord and King of Kings…your names are like healing balm for the soul. Thank you for giving us “pet” names too: sons of God, children of God, believers, Christians, saints, etc. May we always call Baby by names that will delight her, encourage her, and inspire her to goodness!

THOUGHT: Do you have pet names for Baby? I’ve read articles that suggest pet names are almost universal and signify intimacy and endearment. In my natal family, my siblings and I all had multiple nicknames for each family member…some sweet and some pretty nutty. One of the many that comes to my mind is “Lambie Pie.” Some of our names for Aaron when he was a baby included Little Monkey, Punkin, Lambie, Punkie Bear and Baby Cakes.

ACTIVITY: Do you have pet names for Baby? If so, how about writing them out today? If you don’t have pet names, or if you’d like to think of more, take a few minutes and make some up! Your baby will feel very loved and honored in years to come if she can look back and read the affectionate names you and your husband had for her!

Eating Fist117. Shouting for Joy

“But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee.”
Psalm 5:11

PRAYER: Dear Father, all-wise and infinitely ingenious creator, thank you for speech! Thank you for every sound that Baby is learning to make! May he, by your grace, become articulate and able to express himself. May he always rejoice in you and shout for joy because you love him and defend him.

THOUGHT: Baby doesn’t need to hear you whining and crying back at he if she is being cranky. That’s “fighting fire with fire” as they say and simply adds negative static to an atmosphere already charged with unhappiness. However, there is a time for exuberance and exaggerated expression, and excited communication with Baby is good for both of you! Aaron’s firstborn, Reuben, earned the nickname “Shrieking Eel” at this stage! I have several friends with autistic children who do not speak, so rejoice with your child in the sounds of joy. Verbal communication is a tremendous privilege!

ACTIVITY: “Rock and Roll:” Place Baby tummy down on a large ball and gently roll him in various directions while supporting him under his arms so he can practice balancing his head, arms, and legs. After a few minutes, lay Baby on his tummy on the floor, and very gently roll the plastic ball around on his tummy as a “tummy massage.” See if he won’t grab the ball and move his arms with you. Finally, if Baby can sit up a little with back support, put him in a sitting position and let him hold the ball in his arms while you gently move it slightly up and down, in and out, and around in circles.

  1. Immunizations and RecordsMom with Baby Rosie“With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah.”
    2 Chronicles 32:8

PRAYER: Precious Healer and Defender, thank you that you are the LORD our God and you fight our battles for us. As parents, we are helpless to make Baby’s shots effective in protecting her from disease. You are the one who takes the immunizations and makes them into something good in our lives to protect us from more deadly exposures to disease. Help us to accept all the inoculations of life—all the trials and tribulations—understanding that it is for our good. Just as you delivered King Hezekiah when he cried out to you some 2,700 years ago, we know that we can still rest on your promises today.

THOUGHT: Organization is a real key to locking in efficiency and locking out frustration. The more children, the more necessary organization becomes, but if you develop good organizational habits from the outset, you will save huge amounts of time and frustration over your mothering career.

ACTIVITY: By now Baby is probably starting to have some pretty special firsts. Would you consider making a chart where you list the date and feat? I noticed that over the years I sometimes lost track of the kids’ immunization cards. A large manila envelope, some file folders, or even a legal-sized envelope will work. Consider making a record keeper for Baby’s physical milestones and health information. Have a special place for it, maybe in the top right-hand corner of Baby’s clothing drawer or with your own health records. Just be sure you keep it somewhere specific and easy to access, so you’ll actually use it.

  1. Fostering FriendshipsFun with Phi“He who walks with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.”
    Proverbs 13:20

PRAYER: Dear Abba, Father…our God who called Abraham his friend, thank you for coming to us as Immanuel, “God with us,” and as “God incarnate”…God in the flesh. Thank you that Christ walked among men, loved them, taught them, healed them, and called his disciples his “friends.” My dear father and friend, please bless our baby! May we as a family be worthy of being known as the friends of God! Lord, like King David, may each of us in our family always be “a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts.” Help us to choose wise, loving, and loyal friends to be our close companions, and may we be wise, loving, and loyal friends to others.

THOUGHT: Reaching out in friendship, especially with other young mothers who have children close to the age of yours, is a great way for both mothers and babies to multiply the pleasures and divide the pains related to this stage of life.

ACTIVITY: Do you have a friend who has a baby close to the age of your baby? If you do, it would be well worth the investment for both you and Baby to interact with your friend and her child on a regular basis. Maybe you could set up a weekly or monthly lunch, prayer, and share time while the babies play, alternating homes so that each mother only needs to host once or twice a month. If you don’t already have a close friend with whom you’d enjoy spending so much time, maybe you could invite various friends from your church family over so that you can get to know each other better.

Bath time120. More Bath-time Fun

“Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
John 13:5 (ESV)

PRAYER: Dear Father, I know it is worldly wisdom that declares “cleanliness is next to godliness,” but what a privilege it is to live in a country where it isn’t hard to keep clean! We don’t have to draw our water from a village well and carry it up a steep hill. We don’t live on a landfill or have a dirt floor. Most of us have warm, running water at our fingertips any time of the day or night. Thank you for life’s cup overflowing with blessings. Not only warm water to make our bodies fresh and clean, but the water of life to purify our hearts. Surely cleanliness of heart is next to godliness, because you have assured us, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

THOUGHT: Bath time should be one of the most relaxing, pleasurable times of day, and even the process of getting dressed can be fun.

ACTIVITY: Try wrapping Baby in a towel and “flying” him (held securely in your hands) around the bathroom over to the changing table before you dress him. If Baby responds with pleasure, then it could become a simple part of your routine that costs you nothing but a moment’s time and gives Baby a little treat to anticipate. On different days you could have different modes of transportation. Baby boys love screeching car brakes, braying donkeys, and sputtering motorboat sounds with lots of fast action. Some girls doubtless do too, although others may prefer more gentle rides on the wings of unseen angels or securely inside a coach drawn by imaginary, prancing white horses.


Lessons from the Desert: Yes, We Were in Sousse…and in Lyon

Royal Salem Marhaba Hotel. Sousse Mediterranean Beach 2Just got a FB message from a friend this morning Royal Salem Marhaba Hotel. Sousse 3 asking if I’d stayed in Sousse while in Tunisia, Royal Salem Marhaba Hotel. Sousse 5 because a terrorist just killed 27 people at the Hotel Imperial Marhaba.
(Note: Within a few days, this number has arisen to 39.) Royal Salem Marhaba Hotel. Sousse 7 Yes, I had stayed in Sousse…at a resort on the sun-kissed shores Royal Salem Marhaba Hotel. Sousse 6 of the Mediterranean Sea very near the Hotel Imperial Marhaba. All of us had.Royal Salem Marhaba Hotel. Sousse In fact, we’d stayed just minutes down the beach at the Royal Salem Marhaba, Royal Salem Marhaba Hotel. Sousse 4 and my roomie (who was training for a marathon), Royal Salem Marhaba Hotel. Sousse Mediterranean Beach ran that beach in the early morning hours Royal Salem Marhaba Hotel. Sousse Mediterranean Beach outside our door while I took a leisurely swim in the Mediterranean Sea.The City of Lyon, France Furthermore, we were just visiting Lyon, France, less than 2 weeks ago,  where a terrorist beheaded a man and attacked a gas factory this morning.  Fun on the beach Royal Salem Marhaba Hotel. Sousse Mediterranean Beach I knew our trip would be dangerous. In fact, I was rather terrified about going, but I also felt called to go, and so I did, which I think was the right response. Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière In a world full of uncertainty and tension, our best safety is not in using our heads to reason out everything, but in submitting our spirit to the guidance of our beloved heavenly Father. However, that doesn’t guarantee our safety. Rhone River. Lyon, France There are untold thousands of people who are on the front lines of the world trying to help others, and many people are injured or killed in the line of duty every day, even though they’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. Lyon, France Still, prayerfully committing the keeping of our souls to our Father God, meditating on his Word, listening for his direction and following him faithfully… this will lead us into the path of peace. Royal Salem Marhaba Hotel. Sousse 2If we die in the process of loving others, we die…but that’s okay. Our spirits, once made alive again by rebirth, are immortal, and are already joined to our Lord forever. To share this glorious hope with others is worth the risk. I was afraid, but God tells us not to fear! Just love God, love others, listen to our Shepherd’s voice, and follow Him. Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière muralMy sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). Jesus with disciples“But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him” (Luke 12:5).

Lessons from the Desert: It’s a Men’s World

Cow in TruckHad I not read up on Islam and the Middle East before heading to Tunisia, Tire shop I would have been totally shocked to discover Watermelons for sale in Tunisia that it really is a men’s world there. Food for sale in back of truck. Tunisia It’s almost as if women (and children) don’t exist. Truck Selling Dates by side of road in Tunisia We traveled some 800 miles Roadside Stand. Tunisia from Tunis to Douz Gasoline for sale in Tunisia through the heart of Tunisia, Busy Street in Tunisia and I was constantly impressed by how the streets were filled with men. Street Scene Typical in Tunisia Where were the women and children?Men working on road in Tunisia 3 I mean, I wasn’t surprised to see men working hard doing construction work, Men working on road in Tunisia on road crews, Trucks on Highway in Tunisia and driving trucks. Men working on road in Tunisia 2 That’s hard, heavy work and requires manly strength. Lone woman on road in Tunisia But, it was very rare to see a woman out at all, Market in Tunisia even shopping, and when I did spot a woman, she was generally covered Women very well covered in Tunisia from head to toe in clothing that must have been stifling in such hot weather.  Motorcycles and MenI’ve read that Muslim women hang out in their homes, Dates for sale in Tunisia but as one who loves sunshine, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. Motorcycles everywhere in Tunisia I saw many, many more motorcycles Goats and Sheep grazing in Tunisia —and even goats and sheep—than women or children. Tree with men under. Tunisia On the other hand, it seemed there was a group of men sitting under every tree, Men on street in Tunisiaand I wondered why more of them weren’t working. Gas for sale in Tunisia I know that since the revolution in 2011 Men under shady tree. Tunisia there has been an unemployment rate upwards of 15%, Melons for sale in Tunisia and that is very sad. Cafe Paris Men and Motorcycles. Tunisia Still, it seemed strange to be in a world devoid of women or children…Street scene in Tunisia even if we were just driving by Cities filled with men in Tunisia and I was sitting in relative obscurity inside our bus. Men sitting around in Tunisia The cafes were filled with men. Gathering of Men in Tunisia The streets were filled with men. Men Everywhere on Street in Tunisia The shops were filled with men. Market full of Men in Tunisia The markets were filled with men.Taxi Stand. Men waiting in Tunisia Even the taxi stands were filled with men.Roadside Stand in Tunisia  It all seemed very dull and oppressive to me, Shop along highway. Tunisia like something is very seriously wrong. Men in market. TunisiaHow glum the world seems when more than half the population is excluded!Busy street scene. FRance It also made me very thankful when we arrived later in France Church in Annecy, France to be back in a Christian culture where the streets  and shops and cafes Cafe scene in France are filled with men and women busily pursuing life together. Market in Grenoble  It’s true that Christian cultures sometimes badly misuse their freedoms, Children on Bridge in Grenoble but I’m so thankful women and children in Christian cultures enjoy great liberty! La Brasserie in GrenobleMay we choose wisely, live responsibly, Fun in Annecy and be thankful every day for the graces we enjoy! Couple on bridge in Annecy, FranceEnjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:9, NASB).

Lessons from the Desert: The Wise Man Built His House…

Tunisia. House Built in RockGoing to Tunisia has given me a whole new perspective on the parable comparing the house-building techniques of wise and foolish men. Shifting Sands of SaharaIt’s easy to understand the foolishness of building your house (or your life) on the shifting sands of world culture, because that changes with every wind of Dilapadated tent in desertwhim, almost imperceptibly eroding away tiny particles of belief until you have no foundation left and everything on which you base your life is left in ruins. City on a hill in Tunisian WildernessMuch better to build your house on a Rock…or be a city “set on a hill.” Houses built in rock. Tunisia. 3However, in Tunisia, we also saw many houses in the wilderness Houses built in rock. Tunisiathat were literally built by digging into the rocks! Houses built in rock. Tunisia. 2This is truly ingenious, because the underground homes Home built in rock. Tunisia 2 are cooler and protected from scorching heat and sand-blasting winds. Home built in rock. Tunisia 4We had the privilege of visiting one of these homes on our trip. Star Wars Site in Tunisia(In fact, one that was used in the Star Wars movies, but more on that later…) Home built in rock. TunisiaToday I just want to discuss what life is like in these homes built in the rock.Chipping away rockIt takes an average of 3 years to chip away enough rock to build a small home, Home built in rock. Tunisia 3although elaborate homes may have several rooms built off a courtyard.Woman grinding grain with mill stonesLife is simple for these people: simple expectations, and simple pleasures. Oven for home in rockAn oven is carved out of the rock, just like so many things! Water reservoirWater is collected in a little reservoir at the low end of the courtyard. Door for home in rockThick, rough-hewn doors protect the occupants at night. Star Wars Movie Site in TunisiaNot a very glamorous life, but it works for them, Tea. House in Rock. Tunisiaand I found myself very much admiring the hospitality and pluck of these people  Bedroom. House in Rock. Tunisiawho survive and have learned to cope with such harsh circumstancesRudimentary room. House in Rock. Tunisiaby digging into the rock. Wilderness of TunisiaI think all of us go through some wilderness experiences in our lives.Star Wars Movie Site in Tunisia 2It’s good to know that we can dig into the Rock and find refuge!

Statue of Mountain Goats“Therefore whosoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock” (Matthew 7:24-25). Finding Refuge in the Rocks. Tunisia“The Lord is my defense; and my God is the rock of my refuge.” (Psalm 94:22).


El Djem’s Amphitheather of Thysdrus: On Trial for Faith قصر الجمّ

Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّRecalling my visit to El Djem’s Amphitheather of Thysdrus (Tunisia) in the light of the recent murder of the “Mother Emmanuel Nine” in America’s oldest southern African-American congregation (Charleston, SC) last week, Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ 12 I realize that those nine dear saints were martyred for their faith, just like those who were martyred at the Amphitheater of Thysdrus almost 2,000 years ago. Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ 5 We visited El Djem on a quiet Monday morning under peaceful blue skies Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ Bougainvillea hemmed by brilliant bougainvillea. Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ 7 That morning I felt a sense of sacred awe, like I was standing on holy ground, Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ 4and indeed…I was. Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ 3 To me, the Amphitheater of Thysdrus is a monument to faith, Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ 9 although it is also a morgue. Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ 15 El Djem’s Thysdrus Amphitheater is a UNESCO World Heritage Site Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ 2 and the third largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire. Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ 13It’s colossal structure that was capable of seating 35,000 Depiction of Ancient Warriors in Tunisia and was home to chariot races and gladiator shows. Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ10 But, the most remarkable thing to me as a believer is knowing that hundreds— Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ 16perhaps thousands—of Christians met their death in this arena for refusing Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ 8 to deny their faith in Christ as the Savior that God the Father sent into this world to die in our place so that we can be forgiven for our sins and reconciled to God. Ancient Mosaic. TunisiaTwo of the most famous martyrs were young women in their early twenties
—Perpetua and Felicity— who died in 203 A.D. Ancient Mosaics from El Djem, Tunisia Strangely enough, even though the executions were intended as entertainment, Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ6some of the spectators were so inspired by the martyrs’ steadfast faith that they became converts, and a century later,Statue in Museum of El Djem  Constantine decriminalized Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ 18 I’ve done a lot of soul-searching in the last few weeks, Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ 14 and I’d like to encourage you to do the same. Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ 11 What do you believe? Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ 10 Would you be willing to die for your faith so that others might live?
I think the Mother Emmanuel Nine would say, “Yes.”
Would we?Amphitheater of Thysdrus at El Djem قصر الجمّ 17“But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

Desert Roses

Rose. Pink  copyIf you had to choose, would you rather be a garden rose or a desert rose?
Have you ever seen a desert rose?
I didn’t know they even existed until we went to Tunisia. Rose of Sharon. 7.24.13. A desert rose isn’t like the Rose of Sharon, such as we have growing in August gardens here. In fact, the desert rose I’m talking about isn’t a flower at all! Tunisia. Desert Roses 2 It’s a rosette-shaped formation made from gypsum or baryte that has crystallized in arid, sandy conditions, often in salt basins. Evaporating Salt Flat Because they’re a product of deserts, they are often embedded with sand, and if the sand is infused with iron particles (or algae, as in this picture), Pinkish salt flat formations some roses take on a pinkish tinge. Tunisia. Desert Roses We do have “rose rocks” in the southwestern U.S., but true desert roses only exist in Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Algeria. Tunisia. Desert Roses at Garden 2 Most commonly, desert roses are about the size of a small rose, although on our trip to Tunisia, we noticed some absolutely huge desert roses! Desert Roses These uniquely designed creations are used to adorn museums and courtyards, Desert Rose Conglomerate on Tunisian highway and the biggest one I saw was of monumental proportions,
displayed in the middle of a highway intersection! Tunisia. Desert Roses 3 So, now that you know what I’m talking about, which would you choose? Old-fashioned rose copy For fragrance, texture, and sheer visual appeal, I’d rather be a garden rose, Wild Rose copy but they are so fragile and never last more than a week or two. Tunisia. Desert Roses at Garden There’s something to admire in the permanence of being a rock, too, isn’t there? Desert Roses. Algae in waterInasmuch as we are called to be like our creator, perhaps we can be both. Rose. Orange copy In our flesh, may we be vibrant, fragrant, and lovely despite our frailty, Star Wars Tunisia. Desert Roses but in our spirits, may we be even more enduring in our faith
than ancient bones and desert roses!Roses witheringFor all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower thereof falls away: But the word of the Lord endures for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”
(1 Peter 1:24-25)Desert Rose by Laura Pena from Wiki
“And [they] did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:4)

(This last picture was taken by Laura Pena in Tunisia and used by permission from Wiki Commons, but I took all the rest on my recent trip to Tunisia…except for the flowers, which are from my garden.)

Rise Up, My Love (142): Mindlessly Drifting Away

Tunnel under Amphitheater of ThysdrusSong of Solomon 5:2 “I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh…” Chapter five records a frightening separation between the bride and her husband. I spent two months puzzling over these verses…dreading the thought of having to undergo such a separation from my Lord as is recorded in this chapter…wondering if somehow I have been experiencing just such a separation without even understanding it. Have I fallen asleep without knowing it? Is such separation even possible during New Testament times now that we are indwelt by the Spirit and given the precious promise of Jesus: “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:29).Ancient Home in TunisiaHowever or whenever a sense of separation may come, may our first assurance be that regardless of our circumstances, once we belong to Christ, he can be found again. Notice the precious promise given first in the Old Testament: “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, He it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Deuteronomy 31:6). God promises that he will not forsake us, and that we will ultimately never perish, but he does not promise that we will never forsake him. Indeed, the chronic record of man is that of faith, failure, and restoration. “One man among a thousand have I found…” (Ecclesiastes 7:8) is a dreary record indeed of faithfulness. All forsook our Lord in the garden…even Peter, despite his adamant denial: “Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples” (Mathew 26:35).Sbeitla, TunisiaAmazingly, our Lord does not chastise us for this. He predicts it, even as he predicted Peter’s denial. He prepares us with blessed insights: “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). Once his, he will never shut us out, and we can always come to him, but he never forces us; our worship and service are always to be the outflow of love, not slave labor. With the gift of free choice also comes his acknowledgment that we may go “in and out” of fellowship. Sbeitla, Tunisia 2He predicts our course, prepares us ahead of time for how to deal with our failures, and then promises restoration for all who repent. “For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall yea be saved” (Isaiah 30:15). And, to Peter: “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32). Jesus gave not a word of rebuke. Not a hint of self-pity. Nothing but the bright flame of pure, burning love and the promise of restoration with the commission to compassionately encourage other believers afterwards.Amphitheater in El Djem 2Why he should deal with us so tenderly…with such undying love…is beyond comprehension. Why didn’t Jesus call down fire from heaven, like Elijah, and destroy his enemies? Why didn’t he call ten thousand angels to destroy the world and set himself free? When we fail, why doesn’t this mighty God, who accounts the nations as nothing, grind us to powder and blow us away like the dust of the balances (Isaiah 40:15)? He who casts angels into the pit for disobedience (Revelation 20:3), why does His hand reach out still to us who are but wayward human beings? Why doesn’t he quench the smoking flax or despise the tiny flickers of love that smolder within our hearts (Isaiah 42:3)?Endless SandThe answer is in his eternal mercy and love. “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities…the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him…” (Psalm 103:10,17). Although five times between Isaiah 5—10 we are told that God chastised his people in anger, and “for this his hand is stretched out still” (i.e. God was still angry), still, in Psalm 136 we are told twenty-six times that God’s mercy endures forever: God “brought forth Israel…with a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm: for his mercy endureth for ever.” Yes, God is angry with the wicked every day (Psalm 7:11), but his love never ends: “The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” (Jeremiah 31:3) What an example of mercy, grace, and forgiveness for us as humans! Oh, that we might comprehend this love and let it transform us, so that we in turn might love those around us with his compassion and mercy!Easter lilies in Cathedral