Peaceful Thoughts and Gardens

“You can choose to live in the past—or choose to live past it. Make peace with your past before it tears you to pieces” (Linda Swindling, Ask Outrageously: The Secret To Getting What You Want).

Rose in the Musee Rodin Garden, Paris

Ready for some encouraging quotes about peace from around the world? I don’t know about you, but I’ve been struggling with anxiety lately, despite concerted efforts to “Keep calm and pray on.” Between COVID concerns, racial injustice, economic insecurities, rioting, looting, social isolation versus taking some chances on opening social channels again . . . that along with my beloved husband turning 70 and planning to retire in a few weeks . . . well, I’m ready for something to soothe my soul and comfort my heart. I hope what I’ve found will be a balm for you as well . . . so please take a few minutes to meander with me through french gardens while pondering wise thoughts!

Chateau De Cheverny, France

“The first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself . . . Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, and humility” (Nelson Mandela).

Honey bee gathers nectar from Johnny Jump ups

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jesus, recorded in John 16:33).

Apple Blossoms and Colorful birds in Giverny Gardens, France

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity . . . Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow” (Melody Beattie).

Red Valerian (Centhranthus ruber) from garden at Mont Saint-Michel, France

Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you” (Job 22:21).

Kathi in a field of rapeseed (from which canola oil is made); Loire Valley, France

“May you find peace and purpose within friendships and fruitfulness without” (— Sara Ewing What? You’ve never heard of Sara Ewing? Okay, so she’s not famous; but she’s a very wise friend of mine!)

Pansies at Chateau De Villandry, France

“Peace is not made at the Council table or by treaties, but in the hearts of men” (Herbert Clark Hoover, who was America’s president from 1929-1933, during our Great Depression).

“Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace” (Dalai Lama).

Gardens of Versailles

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee” (Augustine of Hippo in Confessions).

Giverny Gardens

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace” (Mahatma Gandhi).

Wisteria. Étretat France

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (Jesus, recorded in John 14:27).

After War Comes Peace

May 8, 2020 marked the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe—a national holiday in France. Last week I shared with you a little bit about Jérôme, the french catechist who loves Jesus. In corresponding about VE-Day celebrations, Jérôme reminded me that “after war comes peace.”

What a comforting reminder for each of us during this season of world-wide unrest and “war” on COVID! Someday—we don’t know when—there will be peace again.

Rubble left from D-Day attack along the coast of Normandy, France
now adorned with gorse bushes

During our trip to France, I was touched over and over again by seeing this lived out in nature. All along the Normandy Coast, wildflowers and soothing fields of green grasses and moss were softening the terrain . . . overcoming destruction with beauty.

Violets and moss flourish atop an old stone wall. Mont Saint-Michel, France.

Did you know that “peace” is mentioned 420 times in the Bible? Something about the quiet glory of wildflowers taking root in rubble and along the rugged cliff sides made me think of peace.

Land scarred by bomb craters now jeweled with flowers

Peace can come to our hearts if we will open them to God’s Holy Spirit and allow him to quiet us. In this light, please let me share a few wildflowers from France and a handful of my favorite verses on peace from the Bible:

Honeybee on Forget-me-not

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven . . .
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace
(Ecclesiastes 3:1,8).

Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14).

Salvia and sea pinks stand like sentinels of peace along the cliffs of Étretat France.

Great peace have they which love thy law:
and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).

Lichens and violets climb the walls of Mont Saint-Michel in France

But the meek shall inherit the earth;
and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace” (Psalm 37:11).

Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright:
for the end of that man is peace” (Psalm 37:37).

Stinging Nettles

He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me:
for there were many with me” (Psalm 55:18).

Kidney Vetch on slopes at Cliffs of Etretat, France.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

Columbine near Mont Saint-Michel in France.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,
shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

Highbush Cranberry

Love the truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19).

Cabbage White Butterfly on Common Winter-cress

Mercy and truth are met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10).

Mounds of wild roses transform the once Nazi-occupied Normandy Coast

And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness
quietness and assurance for ever” (Isaiah 32:17).

Honey bee on Gorse Bush. Étretat, France.

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee:
because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3).

Sea Pinks along cliffs of Étretat, France.

In his days shall the righteous flourish;
and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth” (Psalm 72:7).

Nature softens an abandoned bunker at Pointe du Hoc, France

I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep:
for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

Impressions of Étretat . . . and of Life

Images of Étretat, France have been playing in my brain for 38 years—this image in particular! Do you recognize it? It’s from Epcot’s utterly captivating Impressions de France movie, which began playing on opening day back in 1982 (when our family was young) and now holds the Guinness World Record for the “longest running daily screening of a film in the same theater.” There was always something wistfully romantic about this elderly couple meandering along the cliffs beneath a stormy sky . . . the spire of an old stone church above them and the immortal beauty of Monet’s chalky cliffs below. It made me think of my parents, who were about that age, and conjured up images of peace and endurance . . . God, man, and nature in harmony despite the looming clouds and darkness coming on.

L’Aiguille (The Needle) and Porte d’Aval Arch. Cliffs of Étretat France

So, when we toured France with our two youngest sons a few years ago, Étretat made it into the list of “must sees”. . . and has remained in my heart as one of our “best sees!”

Étretat is a tiny “commune” (French, but we’d call it a village in English) of fewer than 1,300 people.

Étretat is best known for the 300-foot chalk cliffs, graceful arches, and magnificent hiking path. The area was made especially famous by Claude Monet (and other prominent french painters and authors) and retains the atmosphere of a quaint beach resort.

Le monument Nungesser et Coli (Monument to The White Bird)

Étretat’s other claim to fame is as the last place in France where “The White Bird” (a 1927 biplane) was last seen. Two World War I war heroes were attempting the first ever non-stop from Paris to New York City, but the plane disappeared over the Atlantic and was never recovered—continuing as one of aviation’s greatest unsolved mysteries.

Étretat with Chapelle Notre Dame de la Garde (Stone Church) and the Monument to The White Bird atop the far distant hill above the village


The morning we arrived was as overcast and grey as the evening scene in The Impressions of France.

The cliffs were enshrouded with low-hanging clouds of mist.

We explored the beaches and walkways above and through the cliffs.

Remains from World War II German Occupation

Although we knew that the coast of Normandy had been occupied by the Nazis during World War II, I hadn’t realized that their fortifications extended to Étretat.

How many of their sons lost their lives during the raging wars?

I couldn’t help but consider that the elderly couple in The Impressions de France movie would most likely have lived through both World War I and World War II, just like my own parents.

Our sons coming to meet us at the top of Étretat.
They were able to hike faster and longer than we could!

Although our sons kindly refused to acknowledge that Alan and I have become that elderly couple in The Impressions de France, I couldn’t help but sense that in 38 years, we’ve gone from being a young couple in the midst of having children . . . to an elderly couple on the verge of retirement! We haven’t had to live through nearly as much heartache and world destruction as our parents did, but we are heading into a storm during the twilight years of our life— a world war of disease. As of this morning, there are 4,387,438 confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally with 298,392 deaths, and I think before the year is out, these numbers may seem insignificantly small.

Still, my hope and prayer is that our beautiful world will come through the storms intact. May the Lord have mercy on us and heal us. May we find peace to endure and harmony with God and nature as we pilgrim on. May our heavenly father cause his son’s shine to burn off the misty shrouds of death! And, for those who can’t walk along the mountain top but are forced to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, may the Lord cast long golden beams of light to brighten your way.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:1-4).

Different But Beautiful

Ready to enjoy the beauty of Macedonia and some reflections on how change can still be good, even though we feel loss and don’t like “different”? Here is an encouragement for us as we wrestle with all the changes and loss caused by COVID, written by my dear friend, Lisa Walkendorf:

We traveled to Macedonia on a trip to visit friends to help with a summer camp on beautiful Lake Ohrid.

Our family enjoyed the people and the beauty of the country.

Lisa (left) with her husband, Mark, and her daughter, Laura

One day, we spent some free time in the shops of Ohrid and stopped in a handmade jewelry store.

We were attracted by the bright colors in the window.

We learned that Susan Sju made this stunning jewelry from polymer clay.
She had pendants,

an assortment of earrings in vibrant colors . . .

and matching sets, each handmade and unique!

We were enthralled with the beauty of her designs!

As a birthday gift, my husband bought me a pair of earrings. They weren’t overly expensive and served as a lovely and meaningful memory from our trip. I wore them frequently after we returned home until . . . I lost one!

The sentimental value drove me to research on Facebook to find the store owner and, with the help of Google Translate, I asked, “Do you have this same earring? I lost one and would like to buy another pair.” She answered in English, “Similar, not same.” Also I discovered that she does not ship internationally.

So I also reached out to our friends to ask for help since they lived in the country, although in Skopje, not in Ohrid. I explained the situation and sent the picture of the earring. She responded, “Let me see what I can do.”

She gave money to some teenaged girls who were going to that shop, and shared my request. When she came back to the US for furlough, she handed me a box. I opened it to see a new pair of earrings – and at first felt thankful that my face was turned down toward them, because, for that brief moment, I felt very disappointed. Why? The earrings were different . . . and I longed for the same.

Why that response over a seemingly small thing? At that time, I had experienced a major job change which drastically affected my lifestyle, and I felt like everything was changing. The earring represented for me what “was” that was lost.

However, within that quick moment, I was able to look up with sincere gratitude and thank her for all the effort, and repaid the monetary cost. As I reflected later in prayer, God reminded me that the new earrings were really beautiful, just different. And although my life looked a lot different, He could still make it beautiful.

I kept the single earring and put it on a chain to wear as a necklace often with the new earrings to remind me “different . . . but beautiful.” Now, each time I put them on, I am encouraged to trust God anew for grace in my daily journey and to look for beauty while seeking new rhythms as I walk with Him.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom the work that God has done from beginning to end” ( Ecclesiastes 3:11; BSB).

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10; ESV).

Since we live by the Spirit, let us walk in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25; BSB).

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)!

A Million and Ten Thousand Flowers

If you live in the Grand Rapids area and haven’t experienced Rebecca Louise Law’s “The Womb” exhibit at Meijer Garden, I want to encourage you to take time to visit before this spectacular artistic creation ends on March 1.*

What is it? An entire gallery filled with a million flowers and plants from Rebecca’s personal collection plus ten thousand botanic treasures gleaned from Meijer Garden, all dried and strung from the ceiling in delicate chains on tiny copper wires.

Why? To give you an intimate and immersive experience of feeling like you’re personally enveloped in a warm cocoon . . . complete with the comforting sound of a beating heart.

In Rebecca Louise Law’s own words: “I like to capture and treasure small beautiful natural objects to create an artwork that can be observed without the pressure of time. Preserving, treasuring, celebrating and sharing the beauty of the Earth with the world is what drives me.”

And, who is Rebecca Law? She’s a British installation artist—born in 1980, grew up in a little village in the U.K, and studied at Newcastle University’s School of Arts and Cultures in England.

(As a fun side note, my daughter-in-law Gerlinde also studied at Newcastle University about the same time!) Law has exhibited at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Royal Academy of Arts and the V&A (all in London) as well as in galleries in NYC, San Francisco, Athens, France, etc.

So, this is a young and upcoming internationally acclaimed artist with a heart for beauty and nature . . . and the warmth of the womb, exquisitely portrayed through blown glass and paintings which compliment her sublimely sensual experience (in the best possible way) of being encompassed in a womb of flowers.

As I wandered through the quiet beauty, I felt more than anything a silent witness to the sanctity and miraculous nature of life. And death. The natural flow from life to death in the drying flowers.

I tried to imagine 1,010,000 flowers all fresh and alive with color and fragrance. Can you imagine?

Visiting “The Womb” Exhibit at Meijer Garden with my brother

Although I’ve been back repeatedly and taken all my favorite family and friends who’ve visited since the exhibit opened last September, it wasn’t until last weekend—strolling through the halls with Alan—that we realized he’d somehow missed seeing this exhibit!

We’d been there the weekend before and meandered through all the snow-covered gardens outside.

We’d visited Meijer Garden with the family at December when we admired all the Christmas trees adorned so brightly with ornaments from countries around the world.

How was it possible that he’d missed seeing this stunning exhibition? We had to walk right past the door into the art gallery on every visit, where the name of the latest exhibit is proclaimed clearly on the wall.

Is it possible that you—like Alan—are walking right past the door to a wonderful opportunity every day of your life without taking time to read the signs or explore the goodness within? It’s so easy to focus on what we know and already enjoy without taking time to look around. In this world of distractions and time measured mechanically rather than spiritually, are you missing out?

God is a God of abundance and joy, which He offers to each of us. Jesus taught in John 10:10, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” The psalmist also reflected this thought in the Old Testament: “How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures. For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light” (Psalm 36:7-9).

Looking Up from Inside “The Womb”

Although I think for many of us (at least in America), trusting under the shadow of God’s wings often leads to physical abundance, it doesn’t always. I don’t believe in a “wealth gospel.” However, I firmly believe in a gospel that brings spiritual abundance: “They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness, and shall sing of thy righteousness” (Psalm 145:7).

Notice what is abundant here: goodness and righteousness. If you want a life blessed by an abundance of goodness, righteousness, and the pleasures that flow from a life lived in the light of God’s presence, then please, please put your trust in God, our refuge and fortress, and in his Son, Jesus, our Lord and our Savior!

A Photo I Took Trying to Capture the Feel of Being Inside R.L. Law’s “The Womb”

I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust” (Psalm 91:2).

Painting by Rebecca Louise Law

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

*This exhibit has been running since September and will continue through February until Sunday, March 1.

If you go Sunday, March 1, it will be super crowded, but you will also be able to experience the first day of “Butterflies are Blooming” in the conservatory, which is always like a gulp of springtime air for winter-weary hearts. So, if you don’t mind crowds, that would be another excellent option. Also, the first photo is from Meijer Garden’s website. The rest are mine, taken at Meijer Garden.

Thanksgiving Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father . . . Oh Lord, my Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth!

Thank you for creating this indescribably majestic world as a home for people—for all people—every person who has ever lived, the ones born thousands of years ago, those who live today, and those who will be born in the future. People I know and love, and the billions I’ll never meet on this earth. Thank you for creating us to need each other. Thank you for telling us to love each other and take care of one another. Help me to be kind and learn how to love the way you love.

Thank you for the beauty of this earth. Thank you for creating the seas—awesome! Powerful. Mesmerizing. Throbbing with power. Teeming with life. Thank you for water in all its forms—warm, moist breezes in the spring and frozen stars of ice falling from heaven as winter sets in. For clouds and rain, for streams and rivers, for our tiny lake, and for lakes so huge they look like oceans. For brooks that gurgle, waterfalls that roar, and waves that pound and lull. I feel like I could sit forever beside the sea, just drinking in the scents and sights and sounds. Thank you for water. Water is life to me. Thank you for the Water of Life, too—Jesus . . . that fountain of eternal life you’ve caused to spring up within me.

Thank you for forming the dry land . . . the unending display of beauty in nature seen in the trees and flowers, and the unending parade of curious creatures. Thank you for the astounding variations in topography, the rocks and rifts. Mountains so remote most of us will never stand beneath their shadow. Trenches so deep we could never withstand the pressure of descending into them. Lava flows that would incinerate us instantly should we attempt to walk on them. Icy polar winds that would freeze us solid in minutes if we dared to face them unprotected. Lord, as frail humans, we can only stand in awe of your creation, and of You, the One who has created such splendor and power for us to contemplate, but who is infinitely greater than everything we can see in the world around us.

Thank you for the seemingly infinite sea of stars above us, too. I look up into the night sky and marvel. Finger play? With your fingers you made the moon and the stars? What must heaven be like? By day, we can see the sun, without which we would all die within hours. How like your Son, through whom all things consist and without which nothing would exist. He is the energy that holds all things together and keeps all things from collapsing! The sun: We can see it, and we can’t live without it, but we can’t look at it, because it’s so brilliant we will become blind if we dare to stare at it. How like You! The glory of your radiance makes it impossible to see You! And yet, you have given us Jesus, the express image of your person for us to behold. God in the flesh for us to have and to hold. God become man, who purged our sins by his own blood so that we could be reconciled to God.

Thank you for salvation—that whosoever will may come and receive eternal life as a free gift from your hand. Thank You for giving us your Word, the Word of God—a lamp to our feet and a light to our path to guide us through this life. Thank you for your Holy Spirit to brood over us and rebirth our spirits into new life so that we can see your kingdom, sense your presence, and experience your fellowship. Thank you for your Church and the communion of the saints. May your love flow through us to all those around us. May your kingdom come and your will be done all around the world, even as it is in heaven.

I love you, Lord! Thank you for life. Thank you for allowing me to enter your gates with thanksgiving and come into your courts with praise. May I bless your name and be thankful unto you for as long as I live, and into eternity—forever and ever! Amen.

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Iguazú (“Iguaçu”) Falls: The World’s Largest Waterfall System

Although there are higher, deeper, and wider waterfalls around the world, Iguazú is the largest waterfall system in the world.

Magnificent Iguazú Falls!

“Iguaçu” means “big water” in the native language.

Viewing the Argentine side of Iguazú Falls from the Brazilian side

This gorgeous system of falls forms part of the boundary between Brazil and Argentina in South America, and both countries have national parks to protect the pristine beauty “just as it had been created by God” (—André Roboucas, 1876).

Aerial view of the area before we landed at Iguazú Falls

Both national parks are also now UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

A rainbow of hope near the bottom of one of Iguazú’s 275 (+) falls

If you’re into native legends, it seems the falls were created when a deity plotted to marry a beautiful human named Naipí. However, Naipí attempted to escape in a canoe with her mortal lover, Tarobá. In a fury of unrequited love, the deity sliced the river in front of them, condemning them to an eternal fall.

Of course, I believe Iguazú Falls were created by the hand of the Lord God, maker of heaven and earth, who is eternal Love and creates beauty to be enjoyed, not out of spite! 🙂

View of Iguazú Falls from Viewing Tower, Brazilian Side

However you slice it, it’s one of the most breath-taking wonders of the world!

View of Iguazú Falls from the Trail on the Argentine side

In fact, it’s so majestic that Disney’s imagineers have featured it in Epcot’s simulated flight ride around the world called “Soarin.'”

Watch Tower and Rainbows at Iguazú Falls on the Brazilian side

(“Soarin'” is our family’s personal favorite ride and a “must see” if you ever go to Disney and might not ever go to South America).

Iguazú Falls from walkway on Brazilian side

The entire falls system is 1.7 miles long and fashioned from super hard igneous basalt columns that are part of the 3,300-foot thick Serra Geral Formation, so there’s only minuscule erosion each year.

(Only about 1.5 cm per year, versus 30 cm for Niagara!!)

Our guide, Jose, said there were 275 falls,

but the water level was so low that it looked more like “hundreds” to me!

Walkway to second level of Iguazú Falls on Brazilian side

The weather was perfect, and Jose also mentioned that it was ideal for actually seeing the falls, since when the river is really full, there’s so much mist that it’s hard to see much of anything in the canyon!

Half the river’s flow is through a long, narrow chasm called the “Devil’s Throat,”

Double Rainbow over Devil’s Throat

where the highest and deepest falls disappear into billows of rainbowed spray.

If you want, you can take a boat ride
that challenges the outer edges of the turbulence,

Panoramic View ofIguazú Falls

but I didn’t know that was an option before we signed up for our tour.

Capybara feeding on grasses along bank of Iguazu River

Ultimately, I was completely satisfied with how we spent our time,

Iguana at Iguazú National Park

because our guide was a local Brazilian who spotted all sorts of wildlife

in the distance

Caiman swimming in Iguazú River

that we would never have noticed had he not pointed things out!

Jose spent two days hiking us over twelve miles
along trails on both sides of the falls.

Great white heron fishing at Iguazú Falls. Argentine side

He was an expert in the natural, historical,
and even personal aspects of living with the falls.

“Black Fish” (excellent eating!) and minnows in the Iguazu River

Jose could tell all sorts of stories,
including how his father used to fish the falls fifty years ago!

Jungle Train!

On the Argentine side, a rainforest ecological train
transports you through the jungle to three access points:

The upper and lower falls, and the Devil’s Throat.

We arrived early, but the line for the train was already an hour long, so Jose had us walk through the jungle path to the Devil’s Throat.

Although it was a little early in the season for jaguars and pumas (which I was ambivalent about confronting face-to-face anyway), we enjoyed watching the antics of monkeys

Iguana ambling across the path at Iguazú Falls

and the bumbling progress of iguanas and various lizards of all sizes.

Coati walking past me on one of the trails at Iguazu Falls, Argentina

We also had many opportunities to observe what they called “raccoons,” although we call them “coatis” in America.

The coatis seemed completely nonchalant about interacting with people, although they can bite your fingers off or give you nasty scratches,

so there are signs everywhere warning people to stay out of their way.

In fact, they are so aggressive about looking for food that there are cages—not for the coatis, but for the tourists, if you prefer eating in peace without being challenged!

(We ate inside a lovely “cage” that kept the coatis at bay!)

By comparison to the world’s others greatest waterfall systems, I think overall the Iguaçu Falls are the most beautiful I’ve personally seen! The largest by volume of water is Boyoma Falls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (600,000 cu ft/s versus Niagara in second place at 85,000cu ft/s). However, none of the seven cataracts of Boyoma Falls are more than 16 feet high, so they might not be as dramatic to view (although I’ve never been there, so it may be more the remoteness of the Congo and the civil unrest that keeps it from being a big tourist attraction).

Angel Falls in Venezuela

The highest falls in the world are Angel Falls in Venezuela (3,212 ft), although they’re so far into an isolated jungle that it’s very difficult to actually get to see them, so I’ve not attempted to visit them either.

Victoria Falls as seen from Zambezi National Park

The largest “curtain” of water is at Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe (5,604 ft wide with an over 354-foot drop).

We visited Victoria Falls a couple of years ago, where we went swimming in the Zambezi River and cozied up in the Devil’s Pool for a bit, so we could look over the edge into the misty abyss below the falls.

American and Horseshoe Falls at Niagara Falls

Last but not least (among the world’s great falls), is our very own Niagara Falls between the United States and Canada. Although it isn’t “first” at anything, among the highest waterfalls in the world it does have the greatest mean annual flow rate because the Niagara River is typically so much deeper than the Iguazú River system.

Shallow water, just a few inches deep, coursing over Iguazú Falls

Hope this wasn’t statistical overload, and I hope you enjoy numbers. However, I think you’d love visiting Iguazú Falls if you’ve not gone yet, and meanwhile, I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing a little bit of our adventure! It always makes me happy to be able to share!

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

(Photo Credits: *Aerial view of entire falls system by Claudio Elias – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1517981.
** Angel Falls: Used by permission; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SaltoAngel4.jpg)

The rest are mine, taken a few weeks ago while visiting in Brazil and Argentina. 🙂

Chand Baori and the Stepwells of India

Ever hear of Chand Baori? It’s in Abhaneri, which is near Bandikui, Rajasthan. Does that help? I didn’t think so! Ever hear of stepwells? If you have, you’re a step well ahead of me! 🙂 (Was that a groan I heard?)

Plaque Explaining Some Details of the Chand Baori Stepwell

Before we visited Chand Baori in India, I didn’t have a clue what stepwells are, and I was unfamiliar with any of the names above!

Chand Baori Stepwell Surrounding and Protecting a Pond

However, just because I haven’t heard of something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, or that it’s insignificant! In fact, the word “stepwell” isn’t even in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (considered the “gold standard” for many American publishers), but thankfully, it’s in Wikipedia, which explains that stepwells are ponds or wells dug deep into the earth and surrounded by series of steps that descend to the bottom. Stepwells are the brainchild of India and developed as early as the 8th-9th century AD.

Dozens of recessed rooms provide shade from the intense summer heat
at Chand Baori Stepwell

The utilitarian purpose was to provide a water supply even during the hot months of summer drought, although many of the remaining stepwells had shaded rooms that were also a bit cooler, where women (particularly royalty) could rest and socialize.

Harshat Mata Temple Adjacent to Chand Baori Stepwell

Because water is so essential to life, many of the stepwells also provided adjacent temples, where people could worship various gods and thank them for providing water. Over the centuries, some of the more prominent stepwells were elaborately ornamented, and now they are considered national monuments.

Alan and I visited Chand Baori, which is one of the largest, deepest, and most stunning stepwells in India. It has a beautifully symmetrical system of staircases running down 13 stories to about 100 ft. below ground. In all, there are 3,500 stone steps. Chand Baori is truly a work of art and beauty!

Tour guide explaining the significance of various pieces of artwork at Chand Baori

Today Chand Baori also houses various archeological treasures, so it’s a living historical museum as well!

Closeup of the pond at the bottom of the Chand Baori Stepwell

It all looked so beautiful, except the gorgeous green pond was covered with a thick layer of algae and had all sorts of debris floating in it.

I said to myself, “Well, of course they don’t use the water from stepwells any more!”

But, I was mistaken!

Just a few days later, I observed a man collecting water from a stepwell in Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal.

He patiently cleared a space in the algae before gathering his water, but I wasn’t convinced that the water would be very clean, even so!

Since returning home, I’ve thought often about stepwells . . . the fact that I’d never heard of them, but they do exist.

The fact that they are still being used today, even though they probably aren’t very sanitary. How do people survive?

I know everybody thinks their way of doing things is best, and that their gods are the best, but I want to offer Jesus as an alternative to the millions of fearsome gods that are worshiped in India. If you live in India, you may never have heard about Jesus before, but just like I didn’t know about stepwells—and even if Jesus isn’t in your list of gods—that does not mean that Jesus doesn’t exist! Jesus is the “God of gods and a Lord of kings” (Daniel 2:47)—everything wonderful wrapped up in one God— and he offers spiritual water that is pure and holy. He is the Lord, “the fountain of living waters” (see Jeremiah 17:13 and Revelation 7:17) who can quench our spiritual thirst: “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

Tourists and Worshipers Visiting Harshat Mata Temple,
dedicated to the goddess of Joy and Happiness

He is also the author of true joy and happiness: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Chand Baori Stepwell in Abanderi, India

Can you imagine the joy of worshiping the one true God, who is a Spirit and calls for all of us to worship him in spirit and in truth? (John 4:24). This God can provide spiritual water for your soul that will spring up into eternal life. He can protect you from evil. He loves you with an everlasting love and gave Himself so that you can become One with him. His name is Jesus, and He is “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:6).

Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God,
and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:22).

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).