In The Cave

As we prepare our hearts for Easter, I’d like to share this meditation written by a dear friend from my writers’ group who is a retired English teacher…wise, deep, and sweet!

It is the season of Lent, before Resurrection Sunday, and our church is encouraging us to be more contemplative in our personal worship, to be quiet, to listen to the voice of the Lord as we clear our minds and pray and wait. We have practiced being quiet in the worship service, in small meetings, in vesper services. It is a lovely and beautiful time. It is also totally awkward for someone determined to learn through study, to work out the faith in good deeds, to be busy just about all of the time.

In the middle of Lent we take a trip to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky with two of our grandsons. We have been there before and also to various caves around the country, so small wet stairs going down down down, slippery handrails, and the “Now I am going to turn off the lights” from the Ranger are not brand new events. However, they are the events I most dread even though I am thrilled to be there with our grandsons.

After a long hike down into a truly mammoth cave, “you can do it you can do it” keeping time with my footsteps, our group reaches a large inner space with high ceiling and park-supplied benches. The Ranger tells us all to “take a seat.”

He talks about where we are, how the large space has been formed, and answers several questions from the group. Then he says, “I am going to turn out the lights.” I schooch over closer to my husband. “But first, I want all of you to close your eyes. Keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them.”  Yikes, I find my husband’s hand, move even closer to him. And I also close my eyes. Best not to remember we are 250 feet underground in a damp cave, “Now I am going to turn out the lights. Keep your eyes closed.” Click, he turns them out. Best not remember we are 250 feet underground in a damp cave with our eyes closed and the lights turned off.

“When I tell you to, open your eyes.”  Momentarily, he tells us to open our eyes. I do, and it doesn’t seem to make any difference, the darkness, the blackness, is all the same. I can’t see anything. Then the Ranger says, “I am going to turn on my light; it is the equivalent of one candle.” He clicks something and a light goes on. He is standing in the same place as before, he is holding a small light, and I can see the whole cave — ceiling, walls, jagged floors, bench seats, my husband, our grandsons, everyone else.

The Ranger makes some jokes about the overhead lights. Then he tells us that we can see well enough to get all the way out of the cave by this one small candle light if needed.  However, he does turn on the regular lights and we breathe easier.

And deep in the cave I think, “Wow, this is just like the practices for Lent. ‘Close your eyes,’ the Ranger says. ‘Be still,’ the Lord says. The choice is mine.”

The Ranger says, “I am going to turn out the lights. Keep your eyes closed.” The lights go out which is not by my action, but I keep my eyes closed which is my choice. I choose to let my eyes adjust, I choose to clear other images out of my mind and heart. These are my choices.

The Ranger says, “Open your eyes.” I obey. It is deeply dark, fearsome. When I am quiet, focused, it can be deeply dark, fearsome. Light-action-busy is much more comfortable. “Now I will light one candlepower of light,” he says, his action not mine. The acuity of my vision astounds me. How can I possibly see this much? I see because I obeyed the Ranger and prepared my eyes.

So it is in the time of Lent. I can be still and quiet, close my eyes to the confusion of life. I can accept the darkness and allow the eyes of my heart to adjust. And now, with my eyes prepared, what more do I see?

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10, ESV).

(Written by Helen Bell. Thank you so much, Helen!)

A Good Name

On every cruise, there are a number of sea days where you have time to kick back, relax, and soak up the sunshine and sea breezes. One such morning, after working out, we splashed in the pool and then decided to parboil in a jacuzzi before lunch. Almost everybody on a cruise is in vacation mode, cheerful, talkative, and inquisitive, so if you meet another couple, common courtesy includes a greeting and exchanging some light banter around, “Where are you from?” and “What’s your line of work?” This particular morning, a couple joined us in the hot tub, and the wife’s answer included, “We live  about 50 miles south of Chicago,” and “I’m a retired nurse.”

One of my dearest friends, Lizzie, grew up 50 miles south of Chicago and is a nurse, so I followed up with, “Oh! Where did you work?” Long story short, she worked in Kankakee (my friend’s home town) at St. Mary’s, where Lizzie’s father worked and her brother still does work! So, I asked if she ever ran into Lizzie’s brother, which set off an explosion of effusive compliments! He is wonderful. Not only an excellent surgeon, but a good man. “Do you know what I mean? Some doctors do great work—and he and his dad were both gifted surgeons—but the son is a really good person as well.” Good. Good. Good. I think she used that term no fewer than six times, wanted to know all about how I knew him, and in minutes I felt like we were fast friends simply based on our mutual admiration for this “good” man.

Now, I know for a fact that if you asked Dr. Lang if he’s a good man, he’ll tell you that he’s not, because we’ve had that argument. “There is none good but God.” True enough. The rest of us are self-deceived if we think we’re ultimately good and free from defects. I’ve known David for over 50 years, and ya, he’s not perfect, but I totally resonated with this nurse’s endorsement of his reputation for integrity and “goodness.” We will never be perfectly “good,” but we can definitely do “good works” and earn a “good reputation!” Want to? I do!

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1).

P.S.—Jesus Christ was the only person who was ever truly perfect in his goodness, and I’ve also noticed that I become fast friends with others who share a mutual admiration and love for Jesus!

Then saith he [Jesus] to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:27-29).

Rise Up, My Love (275): Eternal Security

Song of Solomon 8:7 God’s eternal love for us secures us forever. We do not have to secure ourselves by adding our own feeble attempts at “good works” to keep God’s love. We have been bought by the precious blood of Christ, and God has chosen to love us. Who would be so foolish as to think that this sacrifice and love was not sufficient to procure (and retain) our salvation? “O foolish Galatians!” Paul warned when the church at Galatia thought they had to keep their salvation through maintaining their good works. Could a lifetime of good works and righteous living add something to Christ’s already perfect sacrifice? No! A thousand times, “No!” A thousand lives lived well could not buy an ounce of God’s love; that would be an insult! his love is lavished on us as freely as the air we breathe and the sunshine that warms our lives. We are his and he is ours!

Revel in the eternal security of his love and unity with us. Finally, if you are married, enter into this supernatural love and let it transform your relationship with your spouse. Husbands (and wives), you are to love your wives with this same eternally secure love. We are called to love our spouses with a love that cannot be tempted to distraction by Satan or the sirens of this world. We are to love each other with a love that does not falter even when we fail one another. We are to love our mate with a bond so strong that only death itself can part us. Are you loving your mate with such a love? Have you told them? Have you demonstrated your love in ways that your spouse can understand?

There is an old joke about the insecure wife who asked her husband, “Do you still love me?” to which he responded, “I told you I loved you when we got married. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.” Gary Chapman—in his excellent book, The Five Love Languages (which I highly recommend if you’ve never read it)—explains that people understand and experience giving and receiving love in at least five different ways: Words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, gifts, and touch. Different people experience feeling loved more clearly through different modes of expression. All of us would do well to understand the varying needs of those we love and learn to express love to them in ways that they can most readily understand.

Are you loving others with God’s eternal love, which cannot be quenched or drowned or bought or sold…forever? Oh, God, may we understand and experience your amazing love, and may we begin loving others with such wondrous strength!

 

Prime Rib

Ever since our honeymoon, where I had my first taste of prime rib,
it’s had a special place in my culinary heart.  Prime Rib one of those rare treats reserved for the very best of occasions
and the very finest restaurants.   (How’s this for “fancy” prime rib…at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.)   Every cruise we’ve ever been on serves prime rib at least once, and last week, while celebrating our 45th anniversary, we were back at our all-time favorite  honeymoon spot…eating prime rib again!

It wasn’t until about a year ago it occurred to me that I might be able to afford serving it for something most unusual, like New Year’s Eve, but it turned out so yummy that I think I’ve inadvertently started a new tradition! Although many places advertise “slow roasted,” after experimenting, I think flash roasting first in a super hot oven, then letting it slow roast, and finishing it on the grill works the best!

Truly Prime Rib
(serves 6-8)

Preheat oven to 500°F. while rubbing a
3 pound prime rib with
3 tablespoons Italian dressing
3 tablespoons fresh, crushed garlic
1 teaspoon course-ground pepper
1 teaspoon course-ground salt
1 teaspoon Montreal Steak Seasoning (or your favorite)

Place in a covered roasting pan fat side up and roast in the oven at 500°F. for 20 minutes.
Turn the heat down to 325° and roast another half an hour.
Turn off the oven but let it continue roasting in the oven until you’re ready to serve it. It needs to rest at least 10 minutes before slicing to retain the juices. If you serve it immediately, it should be pink inside. If you want it rare, only roast it for 10 minutes at 500°F. and turn the oven off, letting it continue to roast for up to an hour. Kick up the heat again briefly to 325°F. just before it’s time to serve to make sure it’s hot, then let it rest for 10 minutes with the oven off before slicing.                              This is rare, but for my taste, it’s too rare!  This is our idea of “perfection,” although several of our in-law kids prefer it more done. To make it medium or well…just keep cooking it longer at 325°F. If you’re in a hurry to finish and need several levels of done-ness, you can also finish off a few slices in a frying pan. The more you cook it, however, the tougher it becomes. (Just sayin’) 🙂 If the weather isn’t too miserable, you can also finish off the prime rib on the grill. Super heat it in the oven at 500.°F for 10 minutes. Let it rest in the oven for up to an hour with the heat entirely off. Fire up the grill and give it another 10-15 minutes (depending on how cold it is out; rotate it several times so it doesn’t burn)  just before you’re ready to serve it. However, you still need to let it rest at least 5 minutes for juice retention. This has become our all-time favorite method. Hot. Juicy. Bursting with flavor!

Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?” (Matthew 24:45).

Things You May Not Know About Billy Graham: What is the Greatest Need in the World Today?

If you’ve watched the popular series about Queen Elizabeth called The Crown, you may know that Billy Graham preached in her chapel,  but did you know that over the course of his life, Billy Graham preached in 185 different countries on all six inhabited continents to about 215 million people
                            (and approximately 2.2 billion across airways)?  Did you know that he appeared on Gallup’s List of Most Admired Men and Women 55 times…more than any other person on earth?! Since Billy Graham’s passing from this life to the next a couple of days ago, I’ve noticed an unbelievable number of (ungrounded) negative comments mixed in with the positives, which stirs me to point out a few of the undisputed positive aspects of his career.    #1. There was never a scandal related to his public or private life.  He  had a policy of never being alone in a room with any woman other than his wife, and even in his last years, he continued that policy.                          He was a faithful husband who did not abuse women!                  #2.There was never any question about his finances.  Despite his world fame and popularity, which could have made him fabulously wealthy, Billy Graham always drew a (relatively modest) salary and kept his financial records open to public.  #3. He never wavered from teaching the clear, simple gospel message from the Bible, which even Pope Paul II endorsed: Billy Graham practiced what he preached. He lived a life of integrity and faith because he was truly transformed by the power of the gospel. Without a doubt, Billy Graham has been one of the most influential men in history,       and he has introduced the Bible and the claims of Christ to more leaders          than any other person in the world during the twentieth century.    So, rather than writing him off as some disreputable religious fanatic, please consider how this man, by steadily living out the life of Christ within him, had the opportunity to implore an entire generation around the world to seek God, salvation, and good rather than lust and greed.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33…that’s all good things related to a life of spiritual abundance, which Jesus promised to those who believe).

If you’re looking for more information about Billy Graham, here are a few links:

Where to hear his basic message free on line: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/my-hope-america-by-billy-graham/His advice on how to make the most of our “golden” retirement years: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/reflections-on-nearing-home-by-billy-graham/Where to go if you’d like a quiet retreat to seek God: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/ever-looking-for-a-quiet-place-for-a-retreat-consider-the-cove/

Casting Your Net

Monday, I wrote about canoeing where dangers lurked by air, land, and sea, (which hadn’t occurred to me beforehand but seemed to be the case à l’époque)!  (I will say that tourists can do much more dangerous things abroad than would ever be allowed in America, so never assume a tour is really safe just because you can choose to do it…such as hanging out at the edge of Victoria Falls in Africa.)At any rate, it wasn’t until we finished our exploration through the mazes of mangrove tunnels and came out to Lake Cartagena that I began to relax,  and when we were reunited with our English-speaking tour guide, he assured us that he’d not seen a single crocodile in the lake for forty years. Okay… However, there is good fishing in the lake (as attested to by this cormorant),   so at least some birds and one man spend their days fishing on the lake. Our guide poled us over so we could watch the lone fisherman in action.

Apparently he and the cormorant were willing to take the risks, although after hearing about alligators migrating north to Georgia in the U.S. and seeing crocodiles on the shoreline of the Panama Canal not far away, I wasn’t totally convinced it was completely safe.   However, the fisherman was working hard, and he was catching fish and crabs!I felt inspired by his hard work and courage! Jesus calls us to be brave and follow him, promising to make us fishers of men (and crabs?). It’s pretty easy to say, “Ya, but it’s dangerous! I might get killed. (Many do in the 68 countries where Christians are persecuted.) So, should we leave our boats and give up?                                Or, shall we follow Christ and cast our nets?

“The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets.” (Proverbs 22:13)“He [Jesus] saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

So You Want To Paddle Your Own Canoe?

In Cartagena, Columbia, we  had a chance to go canoeing through a mangrove swamp, which I anticipated as being reminiscent of our canoe ride in Nepal last fall down the Narayani River.                    You, know—beautiful day, park-like setting, relatively safe.  Only, this time I was hoping we could paddle our own canoes, because…well, just because it’s good exercise and lots of fun.  I was disappointed to see men lined up to escort us, although I knew it might be a bit tricky trying to pole with a stick; I was used to sitting down with a paddle. Nevertheless, it looked like not all the canoes were attended, so I hopped in one that had no apparent captain, hoping they’d let me try my hand at the helm!     Not so fast! There were strong, capable young men assigned to each craft,                              so I settled back to relax and enjoy the ride…sort of… Being a tropical country, and having seen some crocodiles lounging on the bank just the day before, I quickly realized that it was a great idea to let experts pole,  since if I were just trying to learn, I might land our whole canoe in the water!       I had visions of a crocodile or an alligator jumping out of the water           to bite off somebody’s hand at any moment, and it gave me the creeps!  I tried to ask the young man poling our canoe how dangerous it might be, but he just smiled and shook his head as if to say, “I don’t speak English,” so I kept my hands well inside the canoe, tried to hold very still, and hoped for no crocodiles!

What had we gotten ourselves into? I had failed to research this tour option! 😦 Have you ever been for a ride through a mangrove swamp? In a way, it’s awe-inspiring. Frogs and fish darted through the cloudy water. Iguanas hid among the branches overhanging the passageways, and termite nests, looking like discarded Darth Vader helmets, rested on trees. The air was alive with bird songs, although the songsters were hidden behind tangles of branches and flew off skittishly before I could get any good photos. The only birds large enough to be unsettled by our canoe were great blue herons  and the great white herons, who fished silently along the edges of the byways.  Our canoe was almost as quiet as we glided through the maze of tunnels.
The only sound was our guide dipping his pole in and out of the murky water. I suspect we were all being still to escape notice, but for whatever reason,
I had a lot of time for reflections!

Considering the possibility of a poisonous snake dropping down on us from above, a deadly reptile attacking us from the muddy waters below, or catching malaria or other insect-borne disease from the mosquitoes in the air surrounding us made the whole experience seem a little surreal.  I kept remembering terrifying stories like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and thought about the horrible fears and dangers that slaves endured while running away from their masters toward freedom, back in the dark, early days of America.  Can you imagine how desperate people must have been to wander through the mangrove swamps in southern Florida in an effort to find freedom?  We were at least dry, sitting in a somewhat protected environment, which I found out later was an old, original dugout canoe made from mahogany! Most importantly, we were being carried along by someone who knew the way  through the tangle of tunnels  and had the strength and experience to get us safely “home” after our wild ride.       How about you? Have you—like me—wanted to paddle your own canoe? Have you been surprised by how much more complicated and potentially dangerous life is than you ever imagined? It’s definitely been much harder for me than I remembered from earlier experiences.             It’s all too easy to get into a situation where it’s not obvious      which is the best way to actually get you where you feel like you need to go! Alan and I are reading a wonderful book by Joe Stowell called Following Christ.       If you’re tired of paddling your own canoe, try following Christ. It’s simple, and following Christ takes the pain and frustration out of trying to find our own way to freedom and happiness. He loves us and will help. Besides, only Jesus has the wisdom and strength to get us safely home to heaven, which is where we’d all really like to end up…right?! Even if you’re not yet sure it exists?? I mean, if a heaven exists, wouldn’t you want to go there?!

From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).