Category Archives: Activities in the Greater Grand Rapids Area

A Race to the Finish Line

My oldest son’s family (with four boys) are arriving one week from today for Christmas, and this is the room where they usually sleep on the pull-out couches.     What do you think? Am I ready for company? No, I don’t think so either.   😦 We’ve been trying to update our 30-year-old kitchen because our laminate counter tops were worn through and showing spots of white and the drawer hinges had been replaced so many times that the company no longer sells replacement hinges! I realize that Christmas is the wrong time to redo your kitchen, particularly when you’re expecting 24 people to visit, but when we started this project (6 months ago), they said it would take 6-10 weeks. Wrong! But you know, sometimes the only way out is to just keep trekking, so that’s what we decided to do! After all, eating out of the frig off the floor is over-rated! I can totally recommend the guy who’s doing our remodeling. The timing had nothing to do with him (had to wait on the cabinets to arrive, and then the order was incomplete, etc.). Jeff is doing an impeccable job (just for the record).  Unfortunately, he needs foot surgery, so he’s been working long hours to try to get things in shape for us so that I have a functional kitchen for the holidays. The counter tops and new sink will take another month. On top of that, he’s trying to do some extra things that somehow didn’t get into the contract. The lady at the store said, “Oh, he can put in temporary counter tops for you!” but failed to put that in the contract, and of course, I failed to realize that she failed to put that in the contract (along with various other necessary items, such as the strainers for the sink [whatever those are] and the supplies to convert our new range from propane to natural gas)…which Jeff is going to try to do for us (although he’s never done it before), because the company who is supposed to do can’t until after the holidays, and I need a stove!!     So the dust is flying and the living areas are pretty much a disaster area!                            Will Jeff be able to finish before the company arrives?  If so, will I be able to get the house put back together so we can eat at the tables?  (BTW, how in the world did I accumulate so much stuff in just 45 years?) I’m not sure the answer to any of those questions, but I’m praying it works out! Have you noticed that doing things “right” almost always seems to take a lot longer than we think? It generally costs more as well. There are hidden expenses (not just financially, but emotionally and spiritually)…all sorts of things we need that we didn’t know we’d need, not to mention human errors in communicating and planning. Still, God calls us to keep moving forward, doing the best we can and praying for help! I’m believing this is going to work out… somehow, and I hope that if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by life this holiday season, you will also keep looking up and trusting God to see you through!

“The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the Lord. (Proverbs 21:31)

 

Beyond the Board to Break Through

(Written by my dear friend, Lisa…)

Do you have six seconds for a powerful object lesson?

My daughter passed the first part of her Black Belt test in Tae Kwon Do and broke through 2 boards with her elbow for the first time at the test. In practice, she hit the middle of the board but didn’t break through, leaving bruises but no broken boards. It’s tempting to focus on the center of the boards because if she aims too high or too low, the boards won’t break.   The object lesson for me came from her training. She was taught that she can’t focus on the boards but must focus beyond them at the man holding them. If she aims for his chest, instead of the boards, she will have enough momentum to break through.

It reminded me that in prayer, it is tempting to focus on the challenges that I’m praying about, but that is the equivalent of looking at the board. We need to look beyond the problems to God and seek His heart, trusting Him to break through. He holds the ‘boards’ and us in His hands, and He is able. So I want to remember to look beyond to board … to the Lord. In 2 Corinthians 9:8, it says that “God is able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

I appreciate the repetition: All. All. All. All. No exceptions. God is able!

So I say with confidence, I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure” (Psalm 16:7-9).

Samuel Has a Ball Bowling

For any of you who’ve read my blog over the past few years, you may remember we have a grandson living in Grand Rapids who was a micro-preemie. His survival was in question and the source of unceasing prayers for months. Three years later, Samuel is still almost off-the-charts small, but the doctor has signed off on his needing any more speech assessments and says Samuel has completely caught up intellectually and physically (as far as coordination and skill go), for which we are all deeply grateful to our merciful heavenly Father, who loves us all even more dearly than we can imagine loving one another! Samuel has a passion for “Dude Perfect” and anything that has to do with balls, and so he asked if he could have a bowling party for his birthday. I haven’t been to many parties for three year olds (since all our other grand kids live pretty far away), but I can say that this is one of the most fun birthday parties I’ve ever attended where a small fry was center stage! Sammy carried his own ball and learned how to roll it down a little ramp to give it enough momentum to make it all the way to the end of the lane. I’d never seen one of these contraptions before, but what a great way to get toddlers going!  We had four lanes’ worth of family (Brianna’s family also lives in town), and everybody got to bowl a couple of games, but I think we all enjoyed watching Sammy, who was so excited he was practically ecstatic the whole time!Sammy’s mother was a heroine that day, carrying Baby Sister the entire time to keep her content and then making sure Sammy was happy even when it was someone else’s turn now and then (although I think he not only had his own turns, but he got one of his mom’s and one of his dad’s each round as well).Brianna’s dad handily beat the rest of us, although her brother-in-law Sam had unbelievable power!             Most importantly, everybody had a ball…including sweet Samuel!                             He even got a few balls among his birthday gifts!  🙂              Samuel wanted a carrot cake shaped like a ball for his birthday.  The cake was moist, full of carrots and walnuts, and had cream cheese frosting. We all loved it (at least, those of us with teeth), but it made me consider the fact that Sammy is very unusual! However, isn’t every child unique and wonderful?!?In a day and age when fewer people are investing in children and more people are lavishing their love on pets, I’d like to encourage married couples who are considering whether or not they want children to go ahead and take the plunge! Sure, they’re a huge amount of work and life will never be the same, but it will be better! Through all the sleepless nights and struggles, you’ll become less selfish and emotionally richer. Most parents I know wouldn’t trade their kids for anything, even if they do roll their eyes at times and tease about it! In fact, I don’t think there’s anything more precious on earth than a home with children.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:3-5).

(P.S.—I took the photos from the bowling alley, but the three portraits of Samuel were taken by his mom and used by her permission. Thank you, Brianna!)

West Michigan Writers’ Conferences: Past, Present, and Future

Last Friday night I attended the JOT Writers Conference. If you enjoy writing and need a little inspiration, this is one A+ way to grow! JOT is the brainchild of the Weaklings, a group of five men who are successfully pursuing writing careers and live in the Grand Rapids area. About twice a year, they sponsor conferences to encourage and educate writers. I especially appreciate just about every aspect of their conferences:

*They are totally free (and you don’t even need to RSVP)! *They are just one evening long. *They are able to attract some highly successful writers (who also speak for free)! *The organizers are excellent human beings with altruistic egoisms. *The two I have attended meet at Baker Book House, which is a great venue.

*After several brief, TED-style talks with Q&A’s afterward, you’re welcome to leave (making your time commitment only about 2 hours), or you’re free to  mingle and enjoy some snacks, or you can curl up in a corner and write until 11:00 pm if you want!  Does it get any more accommodating than that? I don’t think so!! They haven’t scheduled their next conference yet, but you can connect with them here if you’re interested:   https://jotwritersconference.com/

Also, if you’re got some serious time and money to invest, there are several other writers’ conferences in our area. I’ve attended the first two in the past, although I won’t be able to make them this year. Here is a little information with links:

September 28-30, 2017. Maranatha Christian Writers Conference, celebrating their 40th year. Their website is:  http://www.maranathachristianwriters.com/

October 6-7, 2017. Breathe Christian Writers Conference, which will be held here in Grand Rapids. Their website is: http://breatheconference.com/home/

April 12-14, 2018. Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, Grand Rapids.
Their website is: http://festival.calvin.edu/

Grand Valley State University used to sponsor writers conferences, although they do not currently. Instead, they offer a “Writers Series” with a half a dozen guest speakers throughout the year. You can access information on their 2017-2018 series here: https://www.gvsu.edu/writing/grand-valley-writers-series-12.htm

For those of you who live in other areas, if you’re interested, google “writers conferences” and see what comes up! If you can afford to travel, Billy Graham’s Training Center, The Cove, is hosting The Asheville Christian Writers Conference-Writers Bootcamp on February 16-18, 2018 in North Carolina: http://www.ashevillechristianwritersconference.com/

Happy writing. Happy hunting!

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:3).

 

Reflections on the Eclipse: To Celebrate, To Share, and To Remember

Did you get to see the eclipse yesterday?  Three of my friends joined me for lunch  and a wonderful afternoon of attempting to take photos of the eclipse.  We tried a bunch of different options,  and I used three different cameras,  but I was very disappointed with what I got!  😦   Between the clouds and the power of the sun,  which overpowered my camera’s ability to shut out the light properly (and I hadn’t thought ahead enough to buy a good filter),  I had no really clear closeup of the event.

Thankfully, two of my friends made the long trek to Central City, Kentucky and came back with some incredible photos (which they’ve kindly allowed me to post).                      Their story makes me grin, so I want to share it quickly!  Justin calculated the “perfect” location, which had a slightly shorter totality for viewing but also made it possible for them to leave the area sooner and beat the tsunami of traffic heading back north, so they were home by 6:30 pm! Brilliant plan, all the way around, don’t you think? And, aren’t their photos fabulous!

This makes me so happy, because I have etched into my brain a memory of Justin as a seven-year-old, looking rather forlorn as he sat shivering on the steps of our home by the frozen pond where a motley group of hockey enthusiasts (ages 37 to 7, from our church family) were playing hockey. Justin’s lips were a bit blue, so I asked him if he’d like to come in and warm up with a cup of hot chocolate.

“No!” he answered resolutely! “I just want the puck!!” Tall order for the youngest kid on the ice!  Yesterday (and doubtless oodles of times in the past 30+ years), Justin got the puck! Way to go, Leah and Justin!!

Well, back to my reflections on the eclipse. I’ve been thinking a lot about what motivates us to create images. I think for most of us it’s about “makin’ memories” to celebrate the special times in our lives…to memorialize the events, share them with others, and keep the memories alive. Although some religious groups (both among Muslims and Christians) believe that people should not make any replication of anything lest it be idol worship (which is why ISIL is busy destroying statues), I personally believe God was forbidding only the creation of images for the purpose of worshiping them. Delighting in what is pure and good, and commemorating special occasions with photos, seems like an ideal way to make, share, and remember happy events!

And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:1-6).

(Photo credits: A very special thank you to Leah and Justin Hamilton for letting me use their 4 outstanding photos of the eclipse, which they took in Central City, KY yesterday. You guys are awesome! The rest are from my home here in Michigan, where I shared a very happy afternoon with Brenda, Jane, and Bonnie. You guys are awesome too!)

Some Tips for Watching the Eclipse Today

Are you prepared to enjoy the total solar eclipse today?  There hasn’t been a total solar eclipse visible all across the contiguous states of America for ninety-nine years, so this is a rare and historic opportunity! My son Aaron posted on his timeline a great resource put out by Time for people in the U.S. If you’re interested in knowing exactly when the eclipse will occur and what it will look like in your area, just type in your zip code and it will give you a mock up of the orbit and exact times:  http://amp.timeinc.net/time/4882923/total-solar-eclipse-map-places-view/?source=dam    I’m sure you know this already, but the first safety rule of the day is: “Don’t look straight at the sun!” PBS has put out clear instructions for how to enjoy the eclipse without eye injury by making a simple pinhole projector. (See above.) If you have an i-phone, I’ve heard it’s safe to watch looking over your shoulder through your i-phone in the selfie mode. If you live on or near a lake where the water is still, I’ve also read you can safely watch the eclipse on the surface of the water. (However, I just tested this on our lake, and it almost seems like the water magnifies the glare, so I’m not going to look “straight” at the eclipse even on our lake.) Theoretically, you can watch images fluttering through the shadows that tree leaves make on the ground (which might make for interesting photo ops, but I’m not sure how satisfying this would be for serious viewing). Three of my girlfriends are coming over so we can watch together, and one of them is bringing a tripod and binoculars. It is totally unsafe to watch through binoculars, but I’ve heard you can set up the binoculars so they cast the image onto a piece of white paper on the ground, allowing several people to watch at once.  As I’m no expert, please double check whatever method you choose with some more scientifically reliable source than I am. I’d feel terrible if anybody damaged their eyes from listening to my second-hand information!  Speaking of second-hand information, I was reading in Proverbs 14 today and noticed a lot of admonitions for “witnesses” to be truthful. It occurred to me that even seeing televised reports of what’s happening around the world (such as at Charlottesville) is not the same as being there. What I saw was second-hand testimony, and each television editor had to take responsibility for what they included and what they did not, as was true for each news reporter.  When it comes to knowing and understanding the truth about anything, we are limited. Even if we’re at an event, we don’t see, hear, or understand everything. If we are not present at an event, then we have to rely on the testimony of other witnesses. On whom can we rely? Well, of course we turn to the people we trust the most, but ultimately, no one is omniscient and omnipresent except One, and that is God! He alone knows the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. As we seek the truth, whether it’s about how to watch the eclipse or what to believe about our world, I personally believe the best “fact checker” in the world is the Scripture. If something contradicts the Scripture, then please doubt the witness, not the Word!

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

“The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:9).

 

St. Joseph’s: A Beautiful Surprise!

There are small two towns just off I-96 between our home and Chicago, and we’ve driven by the exit sign probably more than a hundred times over the past 25 years. One is St. Joseph, and the other is Benton Harbor.  They are known as “The Twin Cities” and are only separated by the St. Joseph River, so in my mind, I always thought of them as basically the same town. In fact, because of their proximity, I confused their reputations.  Sadly, Benton Harbor has the lowest per capita income of any town in the state, with over 40% of the population being below the poverty level. The town also has a reputation for being crime-ridden and a place to avoid…rather like the south side of Chicago: Don’t venture in unless you’re prepared for the possibility of being mugged or shot.  However, not long ago, Joel showed us a photo of a beach in St. Joseph that looked so appealing Alan and I decided to do something we’ve never done before: We stopped by to check out St. Joseph on our way home from Warren Dunes.

We were amazed…and delighted! St. Joseph is a beautiful little resort town.  Last Saturday, they were having an auto show with a parade of old cars.  How fun!  They also had a great farmers’ market  loaded with everything  that makes an open-air market mouth-watering  and delicious.  They have a downtown area lined with restaurants and shops  as cute as that in Holland, Michigan.  They have their own neighborhood of classic old homes  that looks like Heritage Hill here in Grand Rapids.  They have a free splash pad at their ” Whirlpool Centennial Park,”   and a gorgeous waterfront at Silver Beach Park  that rivals that of our all-time favorite getaway, Grand Haven.  In fact, the parking lot at the beach was full,  and we had to park some blocks away down a quiet side street.  However, that worked out just fine, because it gave us a good chance  to have our own walking tour of the downtown area and waterfront,  and Alan’s nose tracked down a delightful roof-top cafe  for some fresh perch fish’n’chips.

  All told, we had an A+ experience and marveled that in all these years we’d totally overlooked this little gem of a beachfront resort because of their “twin” city’s reputation. Now the harder question is: Why is one city thriving while the other is failing?, and I don’t know the answer to that. They’re both too far from home for me to try to get involved in solving that problem. (And, we have plenty of poverty and crime right here in GR.)  But, the easier question is this: What or who else am I avoiding because of an undeserved bad reputation? Am I missing out on getting to know someone just because they are related to someone with a bad reputation?  May I (we) learn to be more discerning, evaluating each potential friend according to their own character, not the character of their “family.”  The Bible sets the right example: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (Ezekiel 18:20).  Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:8-9).