Category Archives: Activities in the Greater Grand Rapids Area

Beauty in our Backyard: Amen to Aman Park!

We moved from Michigan’s northern peninsula about 24 years ago, and one of the lingering memories I’ve cherished
is that of northern spring woods carpeted with trillium and wildflowers. Actually, we have a sprinkling of trillium in my backyard, but nothing like the gauze of white that drapes the hillsides near Fayette in the Upper Peninsula, so I’ve harbored a pensive ambition to return some spring just to feast my eyes on the wildflowers that bloom there. Therefore, I could hardly believe my eyes after church last Sunday when some friends showed me photos of the woods filled with trillium at Aman Park, which is just off Lake Michigan Dr. only about 10 miles east of downtown GR.In all the years we’ve lived here, I’d never stopped by to check out this park!  Talk about a deplorable lack of curiosity! (Well, I’d been curious a few times, but never enough to do anything about it!) Susan and I decided to go hiking there.It was S.O. beautiful! The little ridges of the woods seemed sprinkled with frost. Not only are the trillium in bloom, there are wonderful patches of Virginia bluebells and delicate hepatica, wild phlox, vinca minor, and violets. If you live in the area, love wildflowers, and have a couple of hours free in the next few days, consider visiting. It’s free. 🙂But, take a photo of the map on your cell phone for reference, because the trails are very poorly marked. The red (“Interpretative Trail” aka “B”) is only 1.5 miles long but gives you a wonderful experience  of peaceful trails through mazes of flowers.  I laughed with joy, but I also laughed at myself. In 24 years, I’d longed to drive hundreds of miles north (which I never did) rather than figuring out if there were any woods filled with trillium right here! I wonder, is there anything you’re missing and wishing for from days gone by? You might not be able to find exactly the same thing where you are,
but how about doing a little research? Perhaps like me, you’ll find some unexpected and wonderful opportunities
very close to home. In fact, it may be that heaven is closer than you think.Whom have I in heaven but thee?
and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee
” (Psalm 73:25).

(All these photos were taken on April 24, 2017 at Aman Park. If you miss it this year but want to try next year, they seem to bloom about the time the daffodils have peaked and the tulips are starting to bloom, which I’m guessing would be true anywhere trillium grows. Look online…you might have woodlands filled with wildflowers wherever you are!)

Meijer Garden: Butterflies Are Blooming Again, But Not All Butterflies Are Free

One of the perennial delights of living in Grand Rapids
is access to Meijer’s beautiful botanical gardens, and from March 1 until April 30th, 60 colorful species of butterflies bloom  in the 15,000 sq. ft. tropical conservatory,  which is kept at a luscious 85° with 70% humidity  so you feel a rush of warmth  every time you enter, no matter what’s going on outside! We’ve been at night and during the day, but unless you enjoy flashlight hunts and sleeping butterflies,  a bright, sunny day is by far the best option. In unclouded sunshine, the butterflies are dancing everywhere, and if you wear brightly colored clothing, they’re apt to light on you
just in case you taste as delectable as they look!         Usually, our times searching for butterflies is pure bliss,

but this year, there is another ongoing exhibition that counterbalances the joyous uplift of butterflights with the broken-hearted reality of suffering and captivity.The artist is Al Weiwei, a Chinese activist who was arrested in 2009 (and had the presence of mind to take his own photo, which he later tweeted to the world!).  In 2011, the Chinese authorities took his passport so that he couldn’t travel. Once he was beaten so badly that he was unable to go to court to testify. During his house arrest, he bought and photographed beautiful bouquets of flowers as a silent protest against his captors, a practice that he continued until his passport was restored on July 22, 2013.

Perhaps his most provocative sculpture is a vibrant collection of twisted rebar, commemorating the many children who were killed during an earthquake. Reading his story made me think of many Christians who have been similarly persecuted for their faith, not only in China but around the world. As humans, we are born to be free—as free as butterflies!
However, just like humans, not all butterflies are completely free! When we leave the tropical conservatory, each person is carefully examined to make sure no butterfly has landed on them and will end up outside in the cold.Of course, we don’t think of it in terms of their freedom being limited,
because we know they couldn’t survive the freezing nights outside. We think they’re being protected, but the butterflies don’t know that! They flutter happily wherever,
with no apparent sense of direction besides sipping nectar.

My heart aches for Al Weiwei and all who are unfairly persecuted and confined. But, I am also exercised to think about those who wander off in an attempt to “escape” all contraint (like the butterflies who flit outside on a freezing day). Sometimes we’re like those butterflies, totally oblivious to how carefully God has provided a safe environment, mindlessly wandering away from warmth into an exhilarating, freezing freedom which cannot sustain life. In our flights and fights for freedom, let’s make sure we’re fighting for what promotes health and life rather than what will destroy us. Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32, NKJV).   Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You From those who rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of Your eye; Hide me under the shadow of Your wings” (Psalm 17:7-8).

Birthday Club: In Pursuit of Beauty and Light

“We ought to think of our initial encounter with God in terms of beauty, in which God appears to us…He gives himself to us before we even know the right question to ask” (D.C. Schindler).*    It isn’t often you get to visit your daughter’s senior art exhibition. In fact, it’s never happened to me, but for our Birthday Club outing to honor Cindi this year, we took a trip to Spring Arbor to see her daughter’s capstone project, an art exhibition at the Ganton Art Gallery of Spring Arbor University. When we visited, Ilsa and three other graduating seniors had artwork on display.Our Birthday Club usually has some surprises along the way, though, so our first stop was a visit with Cindi’s parents, who are considering a move to GR. This awesome couple sponsored our CMS (Christian Medical Society) group when Alan was in medical school 40 years ago, so it’s been a special joy to get reacquainted with them via my long-term friendship with their daughter. Spring Arbor is a couple of hours east of GR, so had needed a coffee break on our road trip at the “Coffee Barrel” in Holt, Michigan. If you’re a coffee lover and live near or pass through, it’s definitely worth a visit!We met Cindi’s daughter for lunch at Lazeez, where they have excellent Indian cuisine. It was fun to chat with the owner and discover we have mutual friends!  Josh and Amy Gelatt now live in this area, and Josh is the pastor of Cascades Baptist Church in Jackson, MI, but we all attended the same church years ago. It’s such a small world! (These plaques adorn the wall by the register at Lazeez.)We all love savory Indian cuisine, and the ginger chai tea is especially delicious!     After lunch Ilsa gave us a very gracious tour of the gallery and her artwork. I’ve known Ilsa since she was a little girl. She’s always been gifted and artistic. I was very impressed by the variety of her mediums, her creativity, and her skill.       Some of her ideas were absolutely brilliant and worthy of copyrighting.              Many of her pieces had interesting stories and were provocative. Some made really good points…like this one. That’s not chips on her shoulder, it’s a physical representation (if I understood vaguely correctly) of the softness of human beings but the fact that we all have rough edges too.  As we pondered her artwork, I remembered something from a chapel service that one of my sons said recently, “We’re disadvantaged as a community as we head into this brave new world because  we haven’t reflected theologically and systematically as we perhaps should on symbolic reality. Now is our chance to change that. I  invite you and encourage you to explore symbolic reality, symbolic theology” (Dr. Jonathan J. Armstrong, Moody Bible Institute). Jon is a big fan of modern art, although I’ve not been. Maybe I need to visit more art galleries! (BTW, Ilsa’s exhibit is gone, but there are four new exhibits now.) Admission to the Ganton Art Gallery is free, but no matter where you live, you’re probably not too far from some fascinating artwork via student exhibitions, private and public galleries. If you live in Grand Rapids but are broke, there are “Free Meijer Days” at the Grand Rapids Art Museum on Tuesdays 10-5 and on Thursdays from 5-9 pm.                                            I have to say, many of Ilsa’s pieces were rather unsettling
(which was her intention, I’m sure).        I’m much more drawn to the beauty God paints, so full of color and light!However, I was taken with many of Ilsa’s “Fantastic Fiends,” because I noticed the light emanating from within them and remembered this saying:  “Beautiful light is born of darkness, so the faith that springs from conflict is often the strongest and best.”~R. TurnbullAnd so, I wish light and beauty for all of us, but for those who are struggling to find light in the darkness, I pray that you may find some beautiful light born of darkness, and a deep faith that springs from conflict!But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9, ESV).

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (Jesus speaking in John 12:46, ESV).

(*D.C. Schindler, author of The Catholicity of Reason; Pontifical John Paul II Institute at the Catholic University of America. Both Dr. Schindler and Dr. Armstrong’s comments are from Jon’s recent chapel address (which is fascinating) and can be found here (although you might need to rewind it to the beginning):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFTTi_7WC_0&feature=youtu.be

Keeping Track of Our Puzzles

This afternoon will be the memorial service for a 21-year-old student from Calvin College here in GR. Tara Oskam was killed in a car crash not far from our home on March 11 when her car was struck by the car of a 16-year-old who was fleeing the police. Tara was pronounced dead on the scene, and the 15-year-0ld passenger in the teen’s car also died; the suspected teenage driver was seriously injured but is in a stable condition at the hospital at this time. Tara was a beautiful young woman, admired and loved by many, a junior studying speech pathology, very much in love, and looking forward to a bright future. Where’s the justice in that? Can you tell me? I can’t explain it to you at all.

We’re a family of puzzlers. It’s been a favorite pass time on quiet winter evenings since our kids were little, and now even our grand children are hard at work learning how to solve puzzles. I love to watch the progress over time
as the kids think through how to put the pieces together. They’ve learned to arrange the border first.cinderellas-castle-puzzle-almost-completeNext, they sort out pieces that have the most color contrast. Finally, they fill in the hardest pieces
that look so similar it’s hard to figure out where they go.

I think trying to understand and solve the puzzles in our lives is a similar process. First, we develop a framework of ideas and beliefs for understanding our world and life experiences…often referred to as our “world view.” For the Christian believer, this framework is based on belief that God exists, and that He has spoken to us through His Word, the Bible. The scripture is our moral guide and compass. It’s filled with principles for making wise decisions, and it shows us what the picture is supposed to look like if we put life together right.The second step in puzzling out life is figuring out the contrasts: our perceptions of God, the world, and how we interpret our experiences with God in our world. This requires a lot of thought! How can we deal with all the circumstantial  contrasts and put them in the right order so our world makes sense to us?God gives believers the Holy Spirit to guide us. His Spirit takes the words of Scripture and helps us apply them to the various situations we face, so that we have the wisdom to make correct decisions and solve the puzzles in our lives. Finally, we tackle the hardest challenge: figuring out all the subtle situations that don’t have quick, easy, obvious solutions. Sometimes, even though we’ve figured out where the pieces belong, something is still missing. We don’t always have every piece of the puzzle in this life.I’m convinced that no one can solve all the puzzles completely here on earth. Some things are beyond us, and in those things—like little children—we need to trust in what we do know of God: God is good; God loves us; God works all things together for the good of those who love him.God calls us to faith in Christ, asking us to believe in Him and trust him with all the unsolved mysteries of life. Either we let our experiences kill our faith when we don’t understand what’s happening, or we allow our faith to transform our experiences. One makes us bitter; the other makes us better. Are we willing to trust God and obey Him even in the painful mysteries of life? Let’s trust Him to keep track of the missing pieces of our puzzles until we reach heaven, where I believe everything will at last make perfect sense to us.

The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Metamorphosis

 1
     Where once existed companies, workplaces, banks, restaurants and shops now swelled piles of dirt and rocks. Monstrous excavating machinery maneuvered on-site. Buildings were demolished and leveled while brick, masonry and mortar was unearthed, scooped up and hauled away. My delightfully  pleasant small town was being flattened!construction-zone
      Streets switched direction, traffic patterns transformed, avenues altered.  One who had lived in the town for decades may not recognize the place! And yet, the small town’s remodel will bring strength to it. Renewing and reworking will bring significant growth for families and businesses. Many of us are intrigued and curious to see what striking changes will come over the next year(s)!
new-construction-going-up      Jesus longs to transform me.  I may believe I live a pleasant, delightful existence but to change completely is what my Savior desires. Such transformation will not simply require moving things around, but it will demand that habits are demolished and hauled away, attitudes are altered…there will be conversion, modification, and even metamorphosis in my life.  
     Reconstructing and remaking my life to be conformed to the image of Jesus takes the excavating of the Holy Spirit’s power. Amidst the renovation process, I need to be consistently, intimately communicating with the Master Builder, knowing that my home will be eternally with Him.
     Praise you Jesus for being a Savior who transforms lives.  May I continue consistently to soak in Your Presence and seek the Power of the Holy Spirit to transform me into the body of Your Glory.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.
new-constructionHe [Jesus] will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of His Glory”  (Philippians 3:21 NSRV).
(This article was written by Annette Latulippe Young, from our Blue Water Writers’ group. The article and photos were used by her permission. Thank you, Annette!)

Pączki and a Recipe for Cookie Monsters: Dealing with Holidays

paczki-4-packDid you celebrate Fat Tuesday? I’m not sure why, but in Grand Rapids (which has Dutch roots), the traditional special treat are pączki (pronounced “punch key”). My guess is that this yummy tradition has drifted west from Detroit’s once large Polish community, Hamtramck. fat-tuesday-breakfastThis year for the first time, we enjoyed pączki for breakfast on Fat Tuesday.  Pączki are amazingly delicious, deep-fried doughnuts filled with fruit or custard. malasadas-in-kauai-hawaiiPączki have been a Polish delicacy since the Middle Ages, and they are similar to American bismarcks, German berliners, or my much loved Portuguese treat (which we’ve found only in Hawaii): Malasadas. paczkisHowever, pączki may be even richer; they often contain eggs, sugar, yeast, milk, fats, a touch of alcohol and are glazed or sprinkled with sugar. One theory on the development of this tradition was that the Christians were using up their stores of special ingredients before beginning the Lenten fast.

Which brings me to Ash Wednesday. Did you celebrate Ash Wednesday?  I think Ash Wednesday has some similarities to the Jewish Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement.” Both holy days focus on personal reflection, repentance, and the need for atonement through the sacrificial blood of a lamb (the Lamb, for Christians).  Recently I noticed afresh what the signs of true repentance are while reading the New International Version of 2 Corinthians 7:10-11: Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.That’s a weighty list, and I’ve been continuing to examine myself so that I might experience more true repentance over sin.  brothers-and-sonDoes true repentance mean that I am in a constant state of mourning and can never enjoy life? Not at all! Many Christians observe a 40-day “Lenten Season” in which we fast from something we normally enjoy in order to focus more on God and identify in some small way with the sufferings of Christ, but that doesn’t mean we fast forever or never celebrate holidays! Thankfully, the Lenten fast culminates in remembering the death of Christ on Good Friday and ends on Easter Sunday, when we celebrate the resurrection of Christ: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).party-time-for-small-boy I hope you’re able to observe times of fasting as well as times of feasting, because God condones both.small-boy-opening-cardOn Saturdays, I’ve been sharing recipes, and this week I want to share a recipe for one of our favorite treats, although I have to admit I served it before Lent started and won’t be serving it again until after Lent is over!cookie-monsters-for-dessert                                             Chocolate Chip Cookie Monsters

Bake big chocolate chip cookies (your favorite recipe) and place in individual bowls.

Add a scoop of your favorite ice cream

Top with hot fudge sauce. If you don’t have any on hand, here’s a great recipe:

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter (oleo works but doesn’t taste as good)
1/3 cup milk (you can use cream, but milk works fine)
2 T. (tablespoons) dark cocoa powder
Pinch of salt (optional)

Throw all the ingredients for the hot fudge sauce in a pan and cook until the soft ball stage, stirring faithfully so nothing sticks on the bottom. Allow it to cool slightly so it’s good and thick, serve it up with your favorite ice cream, and be sure to put plenty of whipping cream on top (plus a cherry or whatever your kids love). Enjoy, but don’t overeat!  🙂  chocolate-chip-cookie-monstersCharge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17).

Restoration Over Rest at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services

group-of-employees-receiving-5-year-awardsPine Rest just celebrated their annual employee appreciation and award evening, gourmet-dinner-at-pine-restcomplete with a gourmet dinner group-of-people-receiving-employee-awardsand awards for employees
who have served 5, 10, 15, 20…and on up in increments of 5 years. recipient-of-55-year-service-award-at-pine-restOne lady flew back from Florida to receive her 55-year service award!
Can you imagine working at the same ministry for 55 years?!

employee-appreciation-dinner-at-pine-restThis bright, beautiful lady shared that the reason she’s persevered so long is that she has the same heart for ministry as Pine Rest: compassionate Christian care for those with mental health needs.pine-rest-appreciation-dinner-awardsAlan has been working at PRCH (Pine Rest Christian Hospital) for 23 years, so he wasn’t up for an award, but because he’s the CMO (chief medical officer), we’re always invited to enjoy the festivities and honor the faithful employees! pine-rest-ceo-addresses-employeesOur CEO, Mark, is such a stalwart, spiritually-minded leader, and he gave a brief but very memorable message about “Two Holy Moments.” He said the first is when people wake up in the morning and make the decision to go into work, even though they’d rather sleep and are weary of putting aside their own needs to serve others. The second is when they are at work and choose to be present with those who are suffering. Pine Rest ministers to over 50,000 people each year. Like all attempts at intervention, many people are helped, but not all can be healed. However, employees can all express love by their presence and efforts to assist in the healing process. This is a second “holy” moment: Choosing to love each patient and serve them with “compassion and understanding in time of need and offer hope and help through the provision of excellent care.” ceo-of-pine-restThat’s a very high calling, but I think it’s something we can all ascribe to in our daily lives, no matter what our job is, be it leading a company, serving others in hospital or school settings, working as a mechanic, waitress, hairdresser, babysitter, parent, or whatever!

Are you struggling with your job? I’m not saying you should stay in whatever job you have at present, but I would like to encourage you to feel a sense of holiness about whatever job you’re doing. Offer your decision to work as a sacrifice to God, choosing restoration over rest. As an offering to God, choose to love those you serve by providing excellent care. It will tinge what might otherwise be drudgery with the glow of Shekinah glory.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).

And, here’s a verse that just struck me this morning as Alan and I were reading together: “ So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (2 Corinthians 4:12, NIV). When we serve others in love for the sake of Christ, we are literally giving our life so that others may live. But, if we have eternal life within us by faith in Christ, then to give of our lives to bring “many sons to glory” is a supremely beautiful exchange!