Category Archives: Beauty Around the World

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).

Bourke’s Luck Potholes in Mpumalanga: Not All Potholes are Problematic!

                Do you go crazy trying to avoid all the potholes in spring? In Michigan, the winters are so brutal that by springtime roads are pocked with depressions where the ground has heaved, leaving broken asphalt and treacherous traps just waiting to pop the tires of unwary commuters. So, when we were told we were going to stop along the Panoramic Route between Kruger National Park and Johannesburg in South Africa to see “the potholes,” I wasn’t particularly impressed…until I saw them!  These potholes have been created by the confluence of the Treur & Blyde Rivers                                                      at Blyde River Canyon, where centuries of wear have formed deep, cylindrical depressions in the sandstone bedrock. They are indeed potholes, but they’re not the dangerous ones we see in America. These potholes are grand and spectacularly beautiful formations in layered shades of rust, amber, brown, and taupe.  Their name refers to Tom Bourke, who was an unsuccessful gold prospector in this area, but I think he found something better than gold! Today, tourists (like Alan and me) come from around the world to marvel at the natural beauty of this area. So, the next time you see a pothole in your road, please avoid it to be sure, but remember that some potholes can be beautiful. How about us? Is the wear and pressure in our lives revealing natural color and creating unique patterns of beauty in us, or are we becoming broken and depressed? God intends the floods of time and pressure to transform us (particularly at the confluence of ourselves with another “river”).He cutteth out rivers among the rocks; and his eye seeth every precious thing. He bindeth the floods from overflowing; and the thing that is hid bringeth he forth to light. But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding? (Job 28:10-12)   But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour (Isaiah 43:1-3)

(All photos taken on our trip to South Africa at Burke’s Luck Potholes,  2016.)

Rise Up, My Love (228): Would You Like Eyes of Peace?

“Thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim” (Song of Solomon 7:4). A gate where multitudes passed by for water suggests a broad gate and an extremely busy thoroughfare. For the husband to experience his wife’s eyes as deep reservoirs of water beside a busy gate brings to mind a husband who—in the midst of the press and rush of business—could stop to drink in his wife’s beauty and find himself refreshed by the placid, unruffled serenity reflected in her eyes. There is nothing so appealing and calming as bright, clear, peaceful eyes in the midst of a world of confusion…not eyes that have been blurred by staring at earthly possessions, fired by anger, or clouded by guilt, but eyes with clarity, depth, and purity…eyes like the reservoirs of Heshbon—deep calling unto deep (Psalm 42:7)—reflecting the radiant image of the Son of God. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Dear Lord, please give us such eyes…eyes that “are ever toward the Lord” (Psalm 25:15). Give us eyes that sparkle and shine with eternity’s “I love you” and hold heaven in their heart. Eyes that reflect the depth of your character and can guide blind travelers searching through the trackless deserts of this world for reservoirs supplied by your springs of living water. Please give us eyes that reflect the perfect peace of one whose mind is stayed on you (Isaiah 26:3)…whose eyes are calm with the quietness that only you can give. “When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble?” (Job 34:29). Oh, Lord, teach us to open that door which separates soul from spirit in our inmost being and retreat to the spiritual world, closing the door on the yearnings of our flesh so that we might focus without interruption on you. Please give us “eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim.”

“Peace”
There is a peace which cometh after sorrow,
Of hope surrendered, not of hope fulfilled:
A peace that looketh not upon tomorrow,
But calmly on the tempest that is stilled.
A peace which lives not now in joy’s excesses,
Nor in a happy life of love secure;
But in the strength the heart possesses—
Of conflicts won while learning to endure.
A peace that is in Sacrifice secluded,
A life subdued, from will and passions free;
‘Tis not the peace which over Eden broodeth,
But which triumphed in Gethsemane.” —Jessie Rose Gates
( Found in Lockyer, Dr. Herbert. Love Is Better Than Wine. Harrison: New Leaf Press, 1981, p. 116)

Deep in the Heart of Kauai

mountains-in-kauaiDeep within Kauai’s mountainous heartland lies Mt. Wai’ale’ale,
which means “rippling water.” mt-waialeale-waterfallsWith an elevation of 5,148 ft. and an average of 452+ inches of rain every year, mt-waialeale-wettest-spot-on-earthMt. Wai’ale’ale’s summit is considered one of the rainiest spots on earth, mt-waialeale-waterfalls-kauai-aerial-viewand its “Wall of Tears” is filled with waterfalls gushing-waterfalls-kauaistreaming down its face. green-mountain-slopes-kauaiFrom a distance you can’t see the waterfalls. secret-manawaiopuna-falls-on-kauaiYou have to come closer and look carefully. manawaiopuna-falls-jurassic-park-waterfall-kauaiThis area is so wild and remote that it was used in filming Jurassic Parkrugged-mountain-peaks-in-kauaiMy husband didn’t want to go on the helicopter ride lush-foliage-in-kauais-interior-hawaiibecause sudden drops narrow-valley-on-kauai-blue-hawaiian-helicopter-rideand sharp turns in narrow spaces make him motion sick, waterfalls-in-the-interior-of-kauaibut I was totally enthralled the entire time. na-pali-coast-from-the-air-kauaiI’ll always remember my wondrous flight into the heart of Kauai, rugged-valleys-in-kauai-helicopter-tourand how much it made me think of flying into the heart of God. jagged-mountains-along-na-pali-coast-kauaiGod’s heart is deep, rugged, and privately owned, just like Kauai’s mountains. na-pali-coast-kauai-blue-hawaiian-helicopter-rideHis heart is inaccessible except by permission of the Holy Spirit,
who is able to guide us in. mt-waialeale-waterfalls-kauaiWithin God’s heart is a “Wall of Tears”
weeping for mankind to choose to love Him. spectacular-waterfalls-in-kauaiDo you realize that God’s ultimate sacrifice of love is in allowing us
to choose good or evil, to reject Him or love Him…
and then loving us so much that He sent His Son to redeem us?mt-waialeale-fallsIf God forced us to obey Him…forced Himself on us, He’d be a rapist, not a lover. waterfalls-in-kauaiDo you wonder why there’s sin in the world? Because we choose sin over God. secret-manawaiopuna-falls-on-kauai-2Still, God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to save us from sin
and transform us into children of light and love. blue-hawaiian-helicopterHave you allowed the Holy Spirit to transport you into the heart of God? manawaiopuna-falls-kauaiHave you marveled at his love and experienced drinking from His Living Water?rugged-mountains-along-na-pali-coast-hawaii In not, can I encourage you to come into His heart today?close-up-of-mt-waialeale-waterfalls-kauai-from-helicopter“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all,
how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies. (
Romans 8:31-33)na-pali-coast-on-way-to-hanalei-kauai

 

A Whale Tale from Kauai’s Na Pali Coast

whale-tail-by-michaelLast week I shared 20+ of my favorite photos from the Na Pali Coast, but today
I want to share my whale tale (although this tail was taken by my son, Mike). scanning-the-sea-for-whales-na-pali-coast-kauai       Every time we go to Hawaii, I scan the sea for signs of whales, adventure-rafting-na-pali-coast-kauai     and I’ve always wanted to go whale watching, quiet-na-pali-coast-kauaibecause from the shoreline, the whales are usually way out in the distance
and all you can see is s puff of spray to let you know they’re there.sailboats-heading-to-na-pali-coast-kauaiWhile on the Blue Dolphin Charter tour up Kauai’s Na Pali coast,
we saw tons of whales. beach-along-na-pali-coast-kauaiLiterally! humpback-whale-starts-to-dive-napali-coast-kauaiWell, we saw 12-20, but an adult whale is 39-52 feet long and weighs about 79,000 pounds, so each whale we saw was up to 40 tons of whale, right?  🙂  na-pali-coastline-and-mountainsOur captain pointed out that the humpback whales in the Pacific
are really Hawaiian citizens, na-pali-coast-jagged-mountains-kauaisince they give birth here and just migrate north
(about 8,000 miles to Alaska or other Arctic waters) for the summers. magnificent-na-pali-coast-kauaiAfter the mother gives birth, she feeds her calf milk,
and he can gain up to 150-180 pounds each day. sun-streaming-down-on-na-palis-rugged-coast-kauaiI can’t even imagine that much growth, can you? adventure-boat-plying-waters-along-na-pali-coastAlthough boats aren’t allowed to come within 130 yards of a whale, looking-south-along-na-pali-coast-kauaiwhales aren’t held to the same high standard,
and if they want to come close to explore, they will. mother-and-calf-whales-emerging-next-to-our-blue-dolphin-ii-charterOn our trip, a whale and her calf surfaced within 15 yards of our boat (closest siting the Blue Dolphin II had seen all year). whale-diving-napali-coast-kauaiOf course, it all happened so fast that it was hard to get in position and focused at the right place and the right moment, whale-surfacing-na-pali-coast-hawaiibut I was able to snap a few photos before they breached and dived. whale-submerging-hawaiis-na-pali-coastI’ve had a lot of fun thinking about spiritual parallels since.

                                                 Here are a few thoughts:humpback-whale-by-blue-dolphin-charter-catamaran-kauai*Jesus came to earth (“Alaska’s frozen shores”…no offense, Alaskans. Alaska is also beautiful, just like this earth, but it’s cold compared to Hawaii!), but He was from heaven (Hawaiian/heavenly citizenship) and returned to heaven. Believers also have a heavenly citizenship due to our spiritual birth and will join him in heaven again. “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21, NIV).  mother-and-baby-humpback-whales-kauai*Jesus was the ultimate whale calf. He knew the scripture. He not only absorbed the scripture, He was the Word made flesh. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father),  full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).whale-in-pacific-ocean-kauais-napali-coast*We can become spiritual giants  (like the humpback whales) too, if we’ll only drink in the Word. Humpbacks grow for 10 years. Have you stopped feeding on the Word? We can grow our entire lives if we will! “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing” (Psalm  92:14).  whale-blowing-blue-dolphin-charters*Just like the whales in the sea, Jesus is always there whether or not He’s obvious. “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).  whale-tail-blue-dolphin-charter-catamaran-napali-coastjpg*We strain our eyes to catch a glimpse, but we don’t often see Him close up! “Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:7-9). humpback-whale-emerges-right-by-our-ship-kauai*But, sometimes He appears right beside us, and when He does, what a thrill! Those wonderful spiritual experiences remain with us throughout our lives. Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty; they will see a land that stretches afar” (Isaiah 33:17).end-of-napali-coast

 

 

Riding Up the Na Pali Coast on a Blue Dolphin

kathi-on-south-coast-of-kauai-blue-dolphin-boat-toursWhat? You don’t think this is a blue dolphin? blue-dolphin-charter-ii-in-eleele-kauaiWell, truly it is: “The Blue Dolphin II” Charter catamaran! gorgeous-and-rugged-napali-coast And, here is Na Pali’s unbelievably romantic, misty coast! grand-hyatt-kauai-hawaiiThe Hawaiian Islands are the closest thing I’ve experienced
to “paradise on earth” (as far as visual beauty, comfort, and climate),valley-on-na-pali-coastand one of their most gorgeous islands is Kauai, “The Garden Island.” mists-along-na-pali-coastWithin Kauai lies the unique, ethereal Na Pali Coast, which is so rugged that no “Heavenly Hana Highway” can circumnavigate; it can only be accessed by boat! sail-in-the-sun-blue-dolphin-charters-kauaiLast week I tried to talk Alan into taking a ride with me, but he was afraid he’d get seasick in the 8-15′ waves, although he graciously encouraged me to go. na-pali-coast-kauaiIt was fabulous! waterfall-cascading-down-napali-coast-hawaiiNot only did we see incredibly beautiful scenery for hours, lucky-lady-catamaran-on-south-coast-of-kauaiwe stopped for a while scuba-divers-on-blue-dolphin-charter-cruise to go scuba diving snorkling-on-blue-dolphin-boat-toursswimming, or snorkeling along a remote reef area. fish-chasing-pretzels-off-south-shore-of-kauaiThis pristine swimming hole was teeming with colorful fish.sea-turtle-on-napali-coastThere was also a sea turtle swimming on the port side (left), a-pod-of-dolphins-in-hawaii and a pod of dolphins came to check us out on the starboard (right) side. fish-and-eels-underwater-na-pali-coast-kauaiTalk about fun!
na-pali-coast-inthe-distanceAfter this refreshing interlude, they served us breakfast,
and then we headed up the coast to see “the magic.” napali-coast-kauai-dragons-teethKauai and the Na Pali Coast are so idyllic
that they’ve been the used for filming many movies over the years: closeup-of-jagged-mountains-behind-beach-on-napali-coast-hawaiiPagan Love Song (starring Esther Williams back in 1950), waves-rolling-onto-sandy-beach-napali-coast-kauaiSouth Pacific (1958), Blue Hawaii (1961),valley-between-mountains-along-napali-coast-kauai Jurassic Park (1993), Outbreak (1995), set-for-famous-movies-along-napali-coast-hawaii and Pirates of the Caribbean 4 (2011). mist-on-the-mountains-na-pali-coast-kauaiAt high noon, we took a break from all the beauty lunch-on-blue-dophin-charter-catamaranand enjoyed a lunch of sandwiches made from fresh bakery bread
and deli meats, salads, drinks, and cookies. hidden-entry-to-valley-along-napali-coast-pirates-of-the-caribbeanAnd, because this post is getting so long, I’ll stop here for today, humpback-whale-starts-to-dive-napali-coast-kauaibut next week I hope to share the rest of my adventure, including a whale tale! sunshine-and-waterfall-along-kauais-na-pali-coastMeanwhile, wouldn’t you like to be able to live in paradise someday?  two-waterfalls-napali-coast-kauaiHe that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches;
To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life,
which is in the midst of the paradise of God
” (
Revelation 2:7).

A Few of My Favorite Birds (35): Africa’s Golden “Cape Weaver” Birds

ploceus-capensis-african-weaver-bird-hanging-upside-downWhile visiting North Uthungulu in South Africa, tourist-shopping-center-in-north-uthunguluwe stopped at a strip mall (aka little souvenir location built for tourists). hovels-by-road-in-north-uthunguluI usually tried to buy something home-in-north-uthungulu to help support the local artisans, cape-weaver-weaving-his-nestbut this time I was so taken by the birds that I could hardly take my eyes off them long enough to look for soaps, candles, or glassware! cape-weaver-bird-weaving-with-his-beak-using-grassA really squawky colony of brilliantly arrayed Cape weaver birds
were busily making nests in a tree along the path, brilliantly-colored-cape-weaver-bird-south-africaand they immediately captured my attention, cape-weaver-bird-south-africabecause I’d never seen anything quite like them before. cape-weaver-bird-s-a-11-2-16In fact, there are weaver birds in some tropical areas of Asia and Australia,
but weaver birds are most common in sub-Saharan Africa, colony-of-cape-weaver-birdswhere they tend to live in colonies of 2-20 gregarious (though fiercely territorial) males and how-many-ever females they attract. ploceus-capensis-african-weaver-bird-in-tree Male Cape weavers (Ploceus capensis) are about 7 inches long,
have long, conical bills (good for weaving and for sucking nectar).intricate-nest-of-cape-weaver-birdThe males are especially colorful during the long mating season,
which lasts from June to February and peaks during the rainy season. cape-weaver-bird-in-treeDuring the mating season, Cape weaver males are decked out
with golden underparts and orange faces, olive-drab-back-of-weaver-birdsalthough their heads and back are more olive drab in coloring
(which is also the year-round color of females and young chicks.) cape-weaver-making-nestThese talented guys weave intricate, kidney-shaped nests
out of grass, reeds, and leafy fibers to attract prospective mates. kidney-bean-shaped-cape-weaver-bird-nestTheir nests have small, downward-facing entrances and are fully waterproof. cape-weaver-bird-in-nestInterested females test the construction quality by tugging at the interior walls, and if a nest makes the young lady feel snug and secure, father-cape-weaver-bird-helps-feed-youngshe’ll adopt it for the season, mating with her benefactor. colony-of-cape-weaver-birds-north-uthungulu-south-africaUnlike most birds, Cape weavers are polygynous, and one male may build
and therefore entice up to seven mates during any one season. cape-weaver-bird-with-nestEach female spends a couple of weeks brooding her clutch of 2-5 eggs.
She stays the first few nights with the chicks after they hatch, unused-nest-of-cape-weaver-birdbut then she roosts close by in one of the unused nests. cape-weaver-birds-south-africaAlthough the females initially care for the chicks, ploceus-capensis-african-weaver-bird-making-nestas they get older, the males help out with their own chicks,
which must keep them extremely busy for awhile! empty-nest-of-african-cape-weaver-bird-11-2-16Happily, in about 17 days the fledglings are big enough to find their own suppers of seeds, fruit, nectar, unsuspecting small spiders, and insects,
and the parents become empty nesters.

Are you an empty nester? Do you have a home? Keeping up a home seems like a never-ending job to me. Have you considered Jesus, who worked constantly—much harder than the energetic weaver birds—to prepare spiritual homes for “whosoever will”? Still, despite his tireless work, he never had a nest of his own, because He was too busy helping others!

The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them…
Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests;
but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head
(Luke 9:56, 58).

(If you want to hear what Cape Weaver birds sound like, this is from YouTube):