Sonnet 81: “Shall I Compare Thee To a Summer Play?”

“I’d rather go to a Dime-Dog ball game than watch a boring Shakespeare play.” Yikes! Times are changing! In the light of that comment, and in the spirit of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, I couldn’t help but write a (somewhat playful) response expressing my preferences too.

What was considered the height of literary wit four hundred years ago is out of vogue with most of Gen Z, and maybe Gen X too!

As I admitted last time I wrote, even I found a walk in the park more refreshing than a night at the theater!

So, here’s to my Maker, in honor of his glorious being, his creation, and His immutable Word, which stands above time and is eternal, surpassing the eloquence of even the most revered of our English-speaking writers!

Shall l compare Thee to a summer play?
Thou art more worthy and more glorious:
The winds of change oft temper what men say,
Their words, once apt, become notorious.
Words melt and molt; they fade and lose their voice.
What once was wise, youth’s wisdom doth suspect.
The audience today rejects past choice
And says it’s not politically correct.
Though wit be wit and dark be dark through time,
Though love and life and death collide with pow’r,
No light shines like Your canticle sublime,
No truth excels the wisdom of Your bow’r.
Yea, thine eternal grandeur shall extend
Thy Word still pure, unchanging to the end.

Thy word is true from the beginning:
and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever” (Psalm 119:160).

For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:24-25).

Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.”
(Proverbs 30:5)

Sunset Falling on a Bridge Along the Avon River

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:4-5).

Walking the footpath along the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario with my son

Thoughts to Ponder Learned from Some of the Giants of the Faith

“Find your purpose, then lose your life fulfilling your purpose” (John C. Maxell).

Learning from the Giants, by John C. Maxwell, started off a little slow for me, but by the end, I was very happy to have persevered in listening my way through it. Maxwell imagined sitting in his study for a day, being visited by a number of the Bible’s great leaders. As I was usually driving while listening, I resorted to writing down my favorite memories of what Maxwell had to say after arriving at my destination, so they may not be perfect quotes, but I wanted to share some provocative bits of advice gleaned from his studies and commend the book to you as encouraging reading. (P.S.—You know how I love to share photos, too, so I picked out some pictures from my last trip to Mackinac Island, although they were chosen more for beauty than connection to the text.)

Queen Anne’s Lace

Elijah:
*God loves you, even on your worst days!
*Wait, serve, and learn while you wait.
*Our purpose must always be more important to us than our position.
*Find your purpose, and then lose your life fulfilling your purpose.
*Brokenness always precedes blessing.

Arch Rock on Mackinac Island

Job:
*Character is more important than reputation, so work on growing your character.
*Reputation is like a shadow; it has no substance.
*Character is what will enable you to withstand tribulation.
*At the end of Job’s life, he was filled with promise and not pain anymore!

Deborah:
*Be prepared for God to surprise you.
*Expect the unexpected.
*You must deal with your past before God will give you a future.
*God can make nothing out of you until you realize you are nothing without God. (Editorial Note: We are always the objects of God’s love, which gives us great worth, but I think Maxwell was pointing out that God loves the humble in heart.)

Jonah:
*God is a God of second chances.
*Mercy always runs downhill.
*But—think about what you missed by not living right from the beginning!

Joshua:
*God will only give you the promises you claim.

Daniel:
*Be motivated by conviction, not convenience.
*Greatness isn’t doing all you can do; it’s allowing God to do all He wants to do through you.
*You will never lose your way if you never lose your why.
*Courage is like muscle; it is strengthened by exercise.

With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9).

Thoughts on Trying to Comfort Those Who Grieve

Last weekend we had the joy of a visit from Bruce, who was one of Alan’s closest friends during residency days and with whom Alan shared his first practice in Ann Arbor. Bruce married in his thirties, so we knew him as a single man, watched him fall in love, and rejoiced in his marriage. Bruce and his wife were best of friends! She was his greatest fan, and they were a “match made in heaven.” All that sweetness came to a bitter end five years ago when Lisa died of stage IV colon cancer.

There are no words to comfort someone who is grieving the loss of someone they love deeply. No words will ameliorate the pain, but there are plenty of words that can feel like sharp knives piercing an already wounded heart.

Alan and Kathi at Meijer Garden

Because Alan lost both his parents in a tragic event when he was only twenty-nine, and because he is a geriatrician who has cared for many dying patients over the past forty years, I used to stay tucked under his wing when we attended funerals, wanting to be present but feeling totally helpless as far as having any comforting words to offer, knowing that what I would imagine might comfort me could cause stinging pain to my friend.

Now that Alan and I are nearing seventy, and more and more of our friends are experiencing life-threatening illnesses, I’ve been trying to learn more about how to comfort those who are experiencing great loss. In that quest, I listened to an audio book called Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love: Daily Meditations to Help You Through the Grieving Process, by Raymond R. Mitsch and Lynn Brookside.

There are a plethora of books on grief recovery, and this particular one wasn’t my all-time favorite, but there are several ideas I want to pass on. It also reminded me that if you are grieving, or if you love someone who is grieving, there are many resources out there, probably most of which will offer at least some helpful insights. If you’re grieving, consider reading what others have experienced on their journeys of sorrow. For many, there’s truth in the old adage that “misery loves company.” (However, Bruce tells me that what really soothed him was the still, small voice, not the whirlwind of other voices.) If you enjoy writing, consider starting a journal about your personal pilgrimage. Writing can be one of the most therapeutic exercises on earth!

So, here are my favorite takeaways from Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love (along with some photos from Meijer Garden, where Alan and I took Bruce for a quiet stroll after church last Sunday afternoon).

Zen Garden at Meijer Garden in Grand Rapids, MI

“‘I feel your pain.’ Those four words say it all. You don’t have to have answers, just be present.” Personally, I’m not sure if “I feel your pain” is adequate, since I usually feel like their pain is often beyond my comprehension, since I haven’t lost a spouse or child yet. Nevertheless, Bruce (and others) confirm that saying nothing is better than saying anything trivial, but being present with the person is crucially helpful. Listening with compassion and without any criticism or shock over whatever they might express is also a healing balm. Their wounds are raw and sometimes ugly. “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Don’t try to play the Holy Spirit and “cure” them. Pray for the Holy Spirit to comfort and cure them.

Hydrangeas in sunshine at Meijer Garden

“Don’t stare constantly at either the sun or death.” If you’re grieving loss, don’t allow yourself to spend all your waking hours experiencing pain, or your soul will become as blind as someone who stares constantly into the sun. Instead, look into the face of God to find “safe” sunshine and beauty to relieve your aching heart. Ditto if you’re trying to encourage someone else. Don’t PREACH! Walk alongside your friend in some beautiful place where she/he will feel refreshed. “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” (Psalm 90:17).

“The seemingly little things you grieve are not little! The whole fabric of  your life has been rent!” I thought this was profound. The authors went on to say we need to allow ourselves to experience and process pain without trying to minimize or ignore it. Each person’s pain is unique and probably unbearable. “It will be alright,” or “Someday it will be better” doesn’t help present-tense and is like rubbing salt in the wound. Better to say nothing than try to smooth the mountain into a mole hill. It’s NOT!! (BTW, God can overcome our mountains: “The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills” (Song of Solomon 2:8).

“I thought it would be too hard to say goodbye until I refused to do so.” This point is good to process personally if you’re grieving, and I suppose there may be a time in which you can share the authors’ experiences (and both authors were writing from the wells of their own grief), but be careful on this one. Each person’s time to feel released from the intense sense of grieving out of loyalty (which follows grieving out of personal loss) is so unique that the grieving person may feel you (as the one who wants to comfort) are just pushing the person to heal so that you and she/he can both “get on with life.” My friend still wears his wedding ring after five years as a widower. That’s just fine! He’ll take it off when and if he’s ever ready to! Don’t push. Pray!! “Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant” (Psalm 119:76, and for the comfort of our loved ones).

“Suicide is a permanent end for a temporary problem” (the temporary problem being grief). I’ve never been suicidal, but I’ve known a number of people who have suicided, and I definitely think some people have a genetic pre-disposition for turning to this age-old solution to chronic pain. God wants us to turn to Him in our grief (and all our troubles). He does not want us to take matters into our own hands and “end it all.”

Think of the prodigal son. When he returned to his father, his father’s arms were open, and the prodigal found forgiveness and a whole new life opening up to him. I’m not saying we are “prodigals” when we grieve, but I am saying that God is there, whether or not we’ve stayed on the farm or run off to some far country. He is waiting for us to come back and rest under the covert of his wings. He loves us. As long as He wants us on earth, He has good reasons for our being here, even if we don’t see them or understand them. “He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto God the Lord belong the issues from death” (Psalm 68:20).

Listening to History at Meijer Sculpture Park

Another verse to consider for yourself (but would probably not be good to offer someone else who is grieving) is Job 13:15, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.” We’re responsible for living with integrity and faith; God is responsible for choosing when we are born and when we die. He is also available to help us every day from birth to death and offers us eternal life through Jesus Christ, his Son, which is—to me—the ultimate comfort in the death of loved ones who have trusted in Jesus as their Lord and Savior: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Plaque in the Faith Reflective Garden. Meijer Gardens, Michigan

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Do your loved ones know God and Jesus Christ? Do you?

Highlights of Biking Around Mackinac Island (and Life)

July is the perfect time to visit Mackinac Island!

And, the eight-mile road around the island on Highway M-185 is the perfect venue for taking young kids on a big biking adventure, because it’s the only highway in America where no cars are allowed!

So, a couple of weeks ago we headed north with our two oldest sons and their families on a U.P. “roots” tour, including a trip across the Straits of Mackinac on a Shepler ferry boat to spend a day on Mackinac Island.

Horse and buggy in front of Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island

It was a picture-perfect day, and we were all in very high spirits!

Although the nine grandchildren are living in suburban California and Belgium now (read that, no easy, safe places for long bike adventures), they were all up for the challenge, so the first stop was to get fitted on bikes.

Mike pulled the baby in a Burley, and Grace had a trail-a-bike for their four-year-old. Actually, trailer bikes (which have wheels for pedaling while allowing the parent to control the balance) are recommended for the 4-7 year-old set, but our two seven-year-olds opted to ride their own bikes, which was very brave of them!

A Bicycle Built for Two. Mackinac Island

Alan and I took a little razzing from the attendant for what he must have considered a non-feminist approach to modern cycling, but we opted for a bicycle built for two. After (literally) more than 50 years of riding such bicycles around the island together, we weren’t about to be talked out of our old-fashioned favorite.

Burley and trail-a-bike on Mackinac Island State Park, Michigan

There are many advantages to riding on a bicycle built for two! You’re always together; you can hear, talk, and be super close to each other at all times (very bonding).

Roadsides full of wild, pink roses on Mackinac Island

The other advantage, at least for me, is having total freedom to take photographs of all the gorgeous scenery as we pass by!

Highway M-185 is full of flowers on both sides of the road all through the summer, so all you have to do is avoid horses and other people while soaking in the beauty!

We did take numerous stops along the way to enjoy all the byways, including a little wetland walk, where we learned that there are over 415 varieties of wildflowers on the island!

Monarch caterpillar on a milk weed

We have lots of budding (and grown) botanists in the family, so the kids stopped to check out many of the flowers and captivating critters.

Golden coreopsis and purple harebells on Mackinac Island

I’m not sure if it was the flowers, the the gorgeous water, or too many cousins riding too close together, but one of the seven-year-olds took a bad spill at one point!

I’m sure Judah was in a lot of pain from the bad scrape on one leg, but after taking a breather to regain his shaken confidence, he was willing to take off on his own again. It’s good to be tough!!

Thankfully, it wasn’t too much longer before we reached the halfway point! Whew!

We stopped for lunch at British Landing, where lots of seagulls as well as people hang out.

Just in case you’re wondering, the seagulls are not only beautiful and interested in people, they LOVE good food as much as humans!

Hungry biker eating a Cannonball at British Landing on Mackinac Island

We stopped for hotdogs and hamburgers at the Cannonball snack shop.

Everybody was “starving” by the time we got there, so it was a really welcome break.

(Of course, some of us are still pretty insistent about what we like best for lunch!)

Other highlights of the bike adventure included skipping stones,

riding beneath tree-lined canopies of fragrant cedars,

The Island House, Mackinac Island

enjoying all the spectacular hotels, homes, and gardens that line the island,

and our long-standing tradition of stopping at “The Devil’s Kitchen,” a series of limestone caves. (Can you see the Devil’s eyes and nose?)

When Alan and I were kids in the 60’s, and when Aaron and Mike were kids in the 80’s, we were free to scramble up the rocks, and that’s exactly what kids do if left to their own devices, but today there are signs prohibiting such pleasures. 😦

However, nobody can stop a child
from having fun and being just a little scared!

I think everybody was happy to return victorious from our big ride. (Aaron and his oldest had to go an extra two miles to qualify for a boy scout badge, but they are also extra tough!!)

After returning our bikes, we wandered down Main Street, checking out all the possibilities for an afternoon treat to celebrate conquering the trail.

When our kids were little, I usually made fudge to bring with us (to keep down the expense), but this trip our generous (and rather more affluent than we were) sons bought a little fudge and then let each of their kids pick a treat of their own.

Despite being dead tired, I didn’t hear any complaining as we waited for the ferry!

Waiting for the Shepler Ferry on Mackinac Island

It seemed like the perfect end to a perfect day, although I was a little worried about Judah and wondered if his spill on the bike had traumatized him. So, I asked him what his favorite parts of the day had been.

His response was unequivocal: “The trip to the candy store . . . and the bike ride!”

That made me super happy, but it also made me think about my own life. I’ve been on a journey. Most of it has been really great, but like Judah—I had one bad fall near the beginning and got pretty scraped up! However, wouldn’t it be sad if we let our hurts and pains and accidents make us too skiddish to keep trying? And, isn’t it wonderful that we have a Father who watches over us, encouraging us along, and who promises to reward us at the end?! Do you know Him? Are you trusting in Him? God is good. Life is good. It’s not all picnics and vacation days, but it’s all good for us when we let God be our Father and never stop trying!

Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds. Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O Lord, thou preservest man and beast” (Psalm 36:5-6).

Gentle Rains

Another day of gentle rains! I want to publicly thank God for these wonderful rains, because I’ve been praying for them!

In the process of building an addition, our yard became a muddy mess! Alan carefully sowed grass seed everywhere, but every time we turned our backs, the geese would come and gobble up the profits! One of my daily tasks has become chasing the geese away so the grass has a chance to grow. (And then, I have to scatter more seed after they leave.) I feel like Disney’s little cocker spaniel, Lady!

A Tangle of Wild Grapes and Highbush Cranberry Blossoms

Our yard covers more than an acre, and to water the lawn with a hose and sprinkler would take more time, energy, and hose-length than we possess, so I’ve been asking the Lord to bless us with gentle rains to help the grass seed sprout and take root before it all gets washed away or eaten up.

Gray Dogwood, Cornus racemosa, growing wild along our Michigan woodland lane

God has been answering my prayers! We have had one of the most wonderfully cool springs I can ever remember, with the perfect blend of sunshine and soft showers!

The grass has taken root, and we’ve become hopeful that—short of a disastrous drought—the grass may flourish. Perhaps by next summer we will have enough soft grass to support both the grazing of geese and the romping of grand children!

Wild turkeys grazing in the meadow

Well, and enough for the wild turkeys too . . .

Doe and her young fawn grazing with the geese in our yard

And the deer, especially now that the herd
has a number of new fawns to feed!

Mock orange on a rainy morning

Working hard to plant and protect the grass, and praying for rain and sunshine—which only God can provide—reminds me of a greater task we’ve been given: that of sharing spiritual “seed” (the Word of God) with others. “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass” (Dueteronomy 32:2).

Fragrant wild roses perfuming the misty morning air

God has been merciful and kind to me, and he will provide for you too if you’ll surrender your heart and will to Jesus. He calls each of us with a quiet, gentle voice that can only be heard in our hearts. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

White-tailed fawn in our woods

Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great” (Psalm 18:35).

Magnify

Do you ever wake up on a rainy morning and say to yourself, “I just need to go for a walk!”?

Peony crowned with raindrops

Yesterday was one of those days for me, so I donned my raincoat, grabbed my trusty umbrella (to protect my camera), and took off to see what I could see!

Orange Bearded Iris in Rain

It was as I thought—absolutely beautiful!

Peony buds in the rain

The amazing beauty of springtime
is always exhilarating and glorious, isn’t it?!

Purple Bearded Iris

First I walked along the lane to check out the woods and swamp.

Wood ducks in a swamp

At first, I didn’t see anything of particular interest, but then I saw a movement in the distance. It wasn’t until I was able to zoom in with my camera that I got a clear picture: a pair of wood ducks resting on a log, trying to negotiate the rain. They kept shaking their wings, and I smiled, thinking about the saying that something is as insignificant as “water off a duck’s back.” Not if you’re a duck! They worked hard to shake all the rain off their feathers!

Montmoreceny cherries starting to ripen in rain

I’ve been meditating my way through the Book of Psalms in the mornings lately (and I most highly recommend Charles Spurgeon’s Treasury of David for eloquent insights on the these comforting scriptures)! We need a lot of life’s drenching rains to grow spiritually. Bless God for rain; without it we would all die!

Wild roses blooming on our lane

That morning, I was meditating on Psalm 34:3, “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.” I feel like just one little wild rose, but one blossom in the midst of a cluster of wild roses can still attract attention . . . and may any attention we attract always magnify our wondrous creator, who has “made everything beautiful in his time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)!

Water droplets falling off lily pad leaves

I thought about how much more we can see when something is magnified. Without my camera, and it’s wonderful capacity for magnifying life, I would have known it was raining, but I wouldn’t have been able to recognize the distant pair of wood ducks or seen the tiny droplets of water dripping off the edge of the lily pads. May those of us who know God be like magnifying lenses for those who don’t.

Honeysuckle

Although I could smell the heady sweetness of honeysuckle, without magnification, I couldn’t really appreciate how beautiful it is. As we meditate on God’s beauty and draw near to him, may we share that sweetness with those around us!

Elaeagnus angustifolia, commonly called Russian olive, silver berry, oleaster,
Persian olive or wild olive

We have lots of Russian olives in bloom along our lane, but how could I explain to you how joyous they look without magnification?

Highbush Cranberry blossoms

We can’t “magnify the Lord” in the sense of making him anything greater than he is, because he is the Creator who holds the universe in his hands! He is already higher than the heavens and deeper than the seas . . . crowned with beauty and glory!

Mock orange budding in the rain

But, as we draw near to him and begin to appreciate his beauty, we are filled with such awe that we want to share what we’ve experienced with others, just like I love sharing my experiences with you!

Daisy

With magnification, even the common experiences of life become uncommon . . . like the daily miracles we may fail to notice—the breathe of life, color, water . . .

Nightshade

Only through the magnification of God’s Word do we learn to understand that not everything which is beautiful to look is also safe to eat. Some things are really bejeweled poison! “The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable” (Isaiah 42:21).

Waterlily bud in the rain

Only with magnification can we see the tiny details, like the minuscule fly resting on the lily. (Can you see it?) “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour” (Ecclesiastes 10:1). Can you think of anywhere outside scripture where we are given so many insights about the “little” details of righteousness?

Tiny clover blossoms and a tiny slug

I realized that magnification makes me aware of the fragility of life. How easily I might have stepped on these delicate clovers growing in the middle of the road! Even more surprising, there was a miniature slug sitting in the middle of one of them, which I really did not see until I studied the photo later! Whom might we harm because they’re in the middle of our road?? Ever read the children’s book, Horton Hears a Who?

Robin Hood Roses in rain, out of focus!

Finally, I realized that the most powerful camera in the world (which I certainly don’t own . . . but for the sake of argument), with the best magnification potential in the world, would be absolutely useless if it isn’t focused properly! If we don’t learn how to use the Bible (the world’s most powerful tool for revealing and magnifying God) to focus others on the magnificence of God, we won’t have anything worth sharing with others! Instead, we’ll be much more likely to confuse or frustrate them.

Robin Hood Roses in the rain

I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.”
(Psalm 69:30)

Spring Beauty All Around!

This is the time of year when everything bursts
into glorious song and bloom!

Every day there is something new and splendid popping up.

The rebirth of life in springtime is both
majestic and mysterious!

It seems like just a few weeks ago the geese were waiting impatiently
for water to open up.

And now, there are fuzzy goslings and ducklings
coming ashore for breakfast every morning here at Tanglewood Cottage!

Robins are busy rearing their broods,

and a parade of exquisite song birds (like this rose-breasted grosbeak)
come to our feeder every day!

This sassy Baltimore oriole, for some reason, even seems determined
to figure out a way to get inside and keeps attacking my window pane!

Turtles of all sizes and stripes emerge and sunbathe in our swamp.

This phenomenon isn’t just local, either!

Our grandchildren in Belgium found their forests
dotted with tiny woodland anemones

and later covered with bright bluebells!

Our California grandchildren discovered southern hills
covered with bright orange poppies,

and alive with glowing colors from all kinds of beautiful wildflowers!

Some might say this all happened by chance, but I read recently (in a very technical but nevertheless awesome book called Signature in the Cell by Stephen C. Meyer) that there’s not one chance in something like 10 to the 40,000th power that a DNA cell would develop by chance. In other words, even if the world is billions and billions of years old, it’s less likely that the squirrel breaking into my bird feeder spontaneously evolved over eons of time than it is that the bird feeder itself spontaneously evolved!

How did all this incredibly brilliant and intricate beauty come to be? I believe it was by “intelligent design,” not chance, and that the Mastermind behind the intelligent design is none other than our Almighty God! “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1, ESV).

There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6, ESV).

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11, ESV).

“For the Beauty of the Earth”
(—Folliott Sandfor Pierpoint, 1864, Public Domain)

1 For the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies.

Refrain:
Christ, our Lord, to you we raise
this, our hymn of grateful praise.

2 For the wonder of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale and tree and flower,
sun and moon and stars of light, [Refrain ]

3 For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth, and friends above,
for all gentle thoughts and mild, [Refrain]

4 For yourself, best gift divine,
to the world so freely given,
agent of God’s grand design:
peace on earth and joy in heaven. [Refrain]

(All photos taken this spring by myself or my kids. Happy Spring to you!!)