Ode to COVID Confinement

I cannot walk wherever I want, but I can walk.
I cannot talk with whomever I wish, but I can talk.
I cannot see whoever I want, but I can see.
I cannot do whatever I want, but I can be.
I cannot eat whatever I want, but I can eat.
I am confined in many ways, but life’s still sweet.

I cannot hug, but I can love.
I can’t do all I’m dreaming of.
I cannot touch, but I can keep.
I cannot guard, but I can sleep.
I cannot save, but I can pray.
Thank you, Father, for this day!

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

(No, we’re not on vacation with our two youngest sons in Ireland this morning; I’m sheltering in place at home. But, I am very grateful to be alive and more or less well after significantly recovering from the flu or a light case of COVID-19)!

Ideas for Structuring Your Home School

Although I home schooled our kids and loved it, it’s been about 15-35 years ago, so times have probably changed a lot. Still, kids don’t really change that much, so I thought it might be worthwhile to share how we organized our days just in case you’re struggling to keep your kids channeled between now and the end of the school year. Of my five adult children who are married and have kids, all of them—those who live from Belgium to California—are now in school systems that are closed between now and ?? probably the end of the school year.

So, what did I do with my seven? (Alan, as a physician, was out early and home late, but he almost always made it home for dinner and some fun with the kids afterward.) For the kids and me—who were homeschooling together—Monday-Fridays looked something like this:
*Everybody got up, got dressed, made their beds and brushed their teeth
*Breakfast got made, eaten, and cleaned up with the help of some of the kids (We made a list of chores each week and kids helped self-assign themselves to which ones they wanted to help with . . . or else got assigned.)
*Family devotional time, which included Bible reading, prayer, memorizing one verse each day, and a short devotional lesson. (We used Keys for Kids and Our Daily Bread or other Bible story books and/or devotionals over the years.)
*Calisthenics: Fifteen minute routine that we all did together; stretching exercises mostly
*School work, which didn’t usually take the kids more than about 2 hours (3 hours max). You’d be surprised how fast kids can work if they know they’ll get free time when they’re done. 🙂
* Lunch, again aided by some of the kids in prep and clean up
*Rest time. I could never seem to make it through the day without a break, so I needed to rest even if the kids didn’t, although I think it was good for the kids too. Our “Rest Time” usually lasted one hour, and the kids could sleep, read, write, draw, play legos, or otherwise occupy themselves BY THEMSELVES, but creatively, not by watching videos, video games, or internet. Any unfortunate kid who hadn’t finished his school work could finish school during this time too, although my kids were usually setting their watches and timing themselves to see if they could shave off minutes, so motivation wasn’t an issue in our home.
*Snack time or “Fruit Break” as it was commonly called. One of my kids named their plush monkey “Fruit Break” in honor of this cherished tradition!
*Free time (roughly 3:00-5:00 in our family, but every family is doubtless unique). During this time, the kids could play together or separately, including video games or videos. When our kids were little there weren’t amazing YouTubes of everything under the sun, nor did we have Disney on Demand, Netflix, or Amazon Prime. We intentionally didn’t allow T.V., so the kids were definitely “behind the times” on their knowledge of cultural trivia, but some of them still don’t have T.V.s in their homes 30 years later, and none of them are big fans of T.V., so I think it was worth the effort. Instead, the kids were constantly challenged to be creative and do fun things together, such as making crazy home movies and all sorts of imaginative games.
*Dinner Time, including cooking and food prep (all but one of my kids are still great cooks) and clean up.
*P.E.—Probably one of our favorite times of day! After dinner and the dishes were done, we’d all play some sort of family sport with Alan too, such as touch football, volleyball, ice hockey (on winter ponds or iced rinks Alan would make), soft ball, bike rides, swimming, hiking, whatever! When we lived in neighborhoods with lots of other small children, we’d often incorporate neighbor kids, although after we moved out of town and the kids got bigger, we’d usually have enough for a couple of scrub teams of whatever seasonal sport was going.

Truly, this routine was so fun that we kept at it until our youngest went off to college.

All the kids graduated from various colleges and went on to graduate and professional schools afterward, so don’t be afraid to home school your kids for the next few months! In fact, you might discover what I discovered 40 years ago . . . that homeschooling is so much fun that nobody will want to go back to traditional school next fall! 🙂

I have more understanding than all my teachers:
for thy testimonies are my meditation” (Psalm 119:99).

The Importance of Stress Relief: Meditation and Looking Unto the Hills

I wrote a few years ago about attending a lecture at Harvard’s Annual Intensive Review of Internal Medicine on the importance of daily meditation as one of the medically verifiable “best practices” for Mind-Body health. In our world of frenetic activity, meditation has almost become a lost art, but I want to stress (??) the importance of this ancient practice and encourage all of us to pursue meditation, particularly during our time of world crisis.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” ( Psalm 121:1-2).

According to the gurus from Harvard, even twenty minutes per day makes a statistically significant difference in a person’s emotional/physical health. A healthy immune system is our first line of defense against COVID-19 (and myriad other infections), and long-term stress and fatigue clearly reduce the human body’s ability to fight off infections. SO, we not only need to practice “sheltering in place,” but we also need to eat right, sleep enough, exercise, and as much as possible reduce stress and learn how to relax.

The Harvard research group studied the health benefits of meditation on people from various religious persuasions, but because I am a Christian, I am going to explain meditation from a Christian perspective, which has been my personal approach for the past 55 years. Meditation, by definition, is contemplation on a subject. Unlike some Eastern religions, which teach that people are to clear their minds and “think about NOTHING,” Christian meditation has as its goal to focus our attention on God and find our rest and peace in Him.

Yesterday I got a note from a dear friend who returned from visiting India (her homeland) recently with double vision. Mayo Clinic was able to determine that her problem is caused by a palsy of her sixth cranial nerve with no “pill” to ameliorate the symptoms. She has to wait six months to see if her nerve will heal spontaneously, but if it does not, she will need surgery by a neuro-ophthamologist. Meanwhile, one of her friends recommended that she practice an ancient Indian Ayurveda exercise called “Trataka,” where the person sits quietly, intently focusing her gaze on the tip of a candle flame. After doing this exercise for a few days, my friend feels like this is actually helping!

This is a perfect example of spiritual mediation on God and His Word. As we focus intently on God, our blurry, double spiritual vision becomes clearer. God instructs us to meditate daily on the Bible: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8). Want a promise to cling to in this troubled time? I’ve been clinging to this one since I first learned it!!

How does one meditate? I usually try to memorize a verse or passage on which to focus, and as part of that process, I pray and ask God to teach me what it means for me at this time in my life. As a girl, I was taught that meditation is like cogitating on a thought the way a cow ruminates on its cud. The cow chews its food, then swallows it, where it is fermented by microbial activity in a specialized stomach before being regurgitated as a “cud.” The cow continues to chew on the cud for a while before eventually swallowing it again (and so on) until it is finally digested.

This is what God wants us to do daily! Jesus taught us in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” The Bible is our daily spiritual bread, and God wants us to munch on it . . . chew on it . . . think and rethink on it . . . focus on it . . . feed on it, until it is absorbed into our very being to strengthen us! Meditating on the truths in the Bible feeds our spirits! (It also helps reduce stress and relax us as we’re able to trust God to help us with our burdens.) My girlfriend who’s been struggling with double vision has a lifetime mantra that she also passed on to me: “Feed your faith and your fears will starve.”

Feeling fearful and stressed under all the pressure? I am! Let’s lift up our eyes and focus our hearts and minds on the flame of God’s love. Let’s meditate on our heavenly Father, who is our creator, our sustainer, and our help!

Psalm 121: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (69): Seeking and Finding So Much More!

It’s easy to ask for something, but it’s a lot more work to search for something, right? Stop for a second and think with me. Is there anything you’re so passionate about that you’re willing to search for it—forever if need be? Last week we talked about asking and receiving. God invites us to ask him for many good things and says he’ll give them to us, such as guidance, grace, and strength to follow him. But, when it comes to apprehending God himself, we are told to “seek” him . . . which is a great deal harder!

Oh, to know God! Even trying to completely understand a spouse takes more than a lifetime. So, it makes perfect sense to me that finding God is not a simple “ask and receive” offer, because understanding the infinite, transcendent God is without a doubt an eternal pursuit. As Einstein posited it: “I want to know God’s thoughts—the rest are details.”  I’m not sure if a love relationship with God is the one goal you’ve been spending your life seeking, but it is definitely the pursuit of my life, and God is THE love of my life!

Why? I guess because I fell in love with him the first time I heard that he loves me (and you . . . and every one of us)! Why? I don’t know! I’m not sure there’s a real answer to “why” someone loves another person . . . true love, that is! We appreciate those who do good things for us or benefit us in some way, but that’s different from loving them! To love someone is to willingly sacrifice ourselves for their benefit. It’s the energizing power to bless them apart from their benefiting us, and there’s no logical “why” to that in my mind. Still, I want to say that although I fell in love with God initially as a response to experiencing his love for me, I have been hugely benefited from his love ever since.

What are some of the blessings that I have experienced and are available to all who are willing to seek the Lord?
*Salvation and faith.For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
*Liberty.I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts” (Psalm 119:45).
*Peace.Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).
*Hope. “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:13).
*Love. “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5).
*Joy and strength. “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
*Eternal life.And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
*Goodness and other gifts given by the Holy Spirit.But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV).  

Is there anybody on this earth who wouldn’t love to experience all these blessings? However, these gifts are given to “those who belong to Christ Jesus [and] have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24, ESV). Living a life crucified with Christ is a lifelong pursuit of God and his holiness! “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). It’s not an easy “ask and receive” fix; it’s a lifelong commitment to seeking God with all our hearts.

Thankfully, we don’t have to do it all on our own, because Jesus is also pursuing us! “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He loves us so much more than we will ever be able to comprehend! Do you know that? Are you responding to his love by daily seeking him with all your heart? “Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: let such as love thy salvation say continually, The Lord be magnified” (Psalm 40:16). Amen? Amen!!

And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:26-28).

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 7:7, “Seek, and ye shall find.” Matthew 7:8, “He that seeketh findeth.” Luke 11:9-10, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

What Would YOU Like to Read About?

This year, time will be more precious than ever, don’t you think? One of the things I’ve been working on is how to become more effective as a writer, and I’m convinced the first priority is subject matter. SO—if you read my blogs, would you be so kind as to suggest topics that would interest you? I just reviewed the stats from my blog this past year: I had 101,837 views by 73,907 different people from 203 countries (which doesn’t include blog followers) and wrote 239 posts averaging 701 words each for a grand total of 167,561 words . . . which is equivalent to two novels or 3-4 nonfiction books. I’m writing my heart out! But, am I touching the lives of the people who find my blog?

If you’ve read this far, and you would be willing to read one more article this year—and it could be on any subject of your choice—on what topic would you like me to write? If you leave a suggestion in the comment box below, or text me, or email me, or send me a message on Face Book, or give me a suggestion the next time we’re together, I promise I’ll do my best to address your topic ASAP!

Deal? It would be a huge favor to me, as I want to write posts worth reading. Also, while you’re giving feedback and input, would you prefer I write shorter posts more often, or longer posts less often? Ever think about that? I’ve been writing 4-5 posts per week this year. In previous years, I sometimes tried to write daily, but I found it almost impossible to keep up with much depth. I’ve been thinking about switching at some point from topical essays to shorter, daily devotional style posts, which I could write a bit ahead in order to come closer to a daily posting. Any thoughts or preferences there?

Thank you to any of you who have the time to search around in the back of your brain to come up with suggestions for me. Your reading is an encouragement to me, but I don’t want to waste your precious time as we journey through this wondrous life together!

That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving,
and tell of all thy wondrous works” (Psalm 26:7).

2020 Vision

“Twenty-twenty” vision means our eyes can perceive what a person with normal, healthy vision can also see from twenty feet away. I don’t know about you, but it’s been years since I’ve had perfect vision, although thinking about tomorrow being the first day of “2020” makes me wish I could somehow have perfect vision again. If you’ve lost your 20/20 vision, wouldn’t you like that too?!

Okay, so maybe that’s not going to happen for us in this life here on earth, but aren’t you glad we have glasses to correct our vision? I used to think Ben Franklin invented glasses back in 1784, but then I learned Salvino D’Armante made the first pair of glasses 500 years earlier, back in 1284. However, glass has been intentionally produced for more than 3,600 years, and where there is glass, there is likely to be magnification used to enhance eyesight, so I’m not sure if we will ever really know who first used glasses to improve vision. I even heard years ago that a pair of glasses was found next to the imprint of a dinosaur track, although I can’t find any photos to corroborate this claim, so it may be bogus!

Photo taken via Hubble Telescope of Star Cluster Pismis 24 with Nebula

Still, it is certainly true that our human vision is limited but can be improved by magnification. For instance, the Hubble telescope can magnify objects 4,700X, so we can see images of the heavens like this. The universe appears to be perhaps infinitely huge, so we’ll never fully understand it, but it would be impossible for us even to begin exploring outer space without the help of such telescopes.

Fluorescent Endothelial Cells

Similarly, electron microscopes can magnify up to 10,000,000X, allowing us to see images of incredibly small “inner spaces” such as the cells within our bodies. Without the help of microscopes, our understanding of life and how even our own bodies work would be extremely limited.

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles-by Valentin de Boulogne. 1618-1620 AD.

I believe with all my heart (and experience) that the Bible corrects my spiritual vision just like glasses help me see more clearly in this physical world. The Bible, like a Hubble Telescope, helps me catch a vision of the magnificence of heaven, even though I can’t perceive it with my limited eye sight. Through meditating on biblical passages, I can learn about the deepest recesses of my heart and mind. Like a fluorescent microscope, the Bible lights up my inmost being and illuminates my spirit.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day . . . the first day of 2020. My vision for 2020 is to develop 2020 vision spiritually . . . to regain clarity, to focus more intently, and to respond in faithful obedience to the spiritual light I receive. I hope to share some of the highlights with you, and I hope you’ll share what you’re learning with me as well! For starters, have you made any New Year’s Resolutions yet? I’m working on mine, and chief among them is to meditate on scripture daily (which I’ve been practicing for many years) and to memorize at least one psalm per month. For many years after being spiritually born again,* I worked on memorizing Bible verses every day, and I suspect I had closer to 2020 vision back then. Sadly, in the past 15 years or so, I stopped memorizing, and I’m sure that’s effected my spiritual vision. I declare 2020 as my year of attaining spiritual 2020 vision! Want to join me?

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” ( Psalm 34:3).

“Be Thou My Vision”
(Ancient Irish song translated by Mary E. Byrne)

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heav’n’s Sun
Heart of my own heart, whate’er befall
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

(*If you’re not sure what I mean by the term being “born again,” please click on the “Coming to Christ” link at the very top of this post. Without being born spiritually, no one can even begin to understand the spiritual world and is as blind to spiritual life as a babe still in the womb),

Merry Christmas, 2019

Sitting by the fountain in the Soo Looks Park where we used to sit 50 years ago!

2019 has been an extremely happy year for our family for the most part, although not without some major sorrow and challenges! Alan has been feeling well and is continuing as the medical director at Pine Rest Christian Hospital. However, we will both turn 70 in 2020, so he’s beginning to think about retiring “at some point.” I’m guessing sometime this coming year, but he’s made no promises, so I’m not holding my breath! Besides, I’m happy as a clam writing and enjoying family, friends, community, and church life.

Aaron and Michael’s families joining us on a “Roots Tour”
in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Aaron and Carleen with their four boys continue to enjoy living in California, where Aaron is now a senior manager at LinkedIn. Carlie is still homeschooling, and the kids all seem to be thriving. They’ve been wonderful about visiting twice each year, for which I’m most grateful because it makes the distance seem not quite so far!

Michael and Grace’s family in Europe

Michael and Grace are now stationed in Belgium with their five children, so (very sadly) we don’t get to see them often, although they blessed us with a long, happy visit last summer. Michael has been promoted to “Major” Armstrong and works at the American/NATO dental clinics near Brussels, where they enjoy interacting with military personnel from 28 different countries! The children were enrolled in the Belgian public schools this fall (after previously home schooling), so they’re learning French and expanding their understanding of world culture.

Such a fun week with Jon and Gerlinde’s family at Disney!

Jonathan and Gerlinde are now living in Chicago, where (“Dr.”) Jonathan is a professor of biblical studies and directs the Center for Global Theological Education. Gerlinde is still homeschooling the children. We had an awesome trip to Disney camping with their family last spring and feel greatly privileged to see them pretty often now that they’re living so much closer than they used to! (Lived for seven years in Washington State.)

Daniel and Brianna with Samuel, Elanor, and Neil

Daniel and Brianna (like Jonathan and Kathryn) also now have three children, so Alan and I are the blessed “Papa” and “Nana” to eighteen grandchildren. Because Daniel and Brianna live in Grand Rapids, we get to see them the most often and delight in watching every little change! Right now, Nerf wars with Sammy and Play-Doh with Ellie are favorite games, whereas our new “Neil Armstrong” just likes to snuggle and coo! Daniel continues as the dental director at Exalta Health, a ministry in GR treating the medical, emotional, and spiritual needs of un or under-insured folks. Brianna’s father retired in May (in what seemed like perfect health) but was diagnosed with stage IV cancer in August. His 10 children, 6 in-laws, and 15 grandchildren were able to gather in time for his shocking demise, and he passed into eternal rest on the 21st of November. He has been terribly missed.

Stephen home for the Fourth of July and his birthday

Stephen is still hard at work on his PhD in musicology from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. He has now completed all his classwork for his degree and is writing his dissertation. Thanks to a scholarship, he spent part of his summer studying in the U.K. Stephen has presented at twenty conferences over the past few years . . . all part of becoming competitive for the job market as (hopefully) a college professor in the next year or two.

Joel at his office

We have the great privilege of having our youngest son living with us at this time. He works as an associate editor at Kregel Publications and adds much joy to our home! He is also actively presenting at writers’ conferences and is constantly working on novels.

Joel teaching a seminar at my Blue Water Writers’ Group

Joel (as a special gift to me) has even shared a couple of his presentations with my writers’ group!

Some of our family gathered for a Fourth of July celebration

There is so much I could say, but I appreciate your taking time to read this much! All the kids and grandchildren are healthy, active in their churches, and growing in grace. The bottom line to me is that God has been amazingly merciful and kind to our family. I’ve been memorizing psalms this year, and Psalm 16 just speaks my heart:

Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust. O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee; But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight. Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips. The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage. I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons. I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”