“At least I can’t die young anymore! Guess I can scratch that off my bucket list,” Brian grinned just before blowing out the candles on his birthday cake. Not that he really had dying young ON his bucket list, but he IS the oldest known survivor of his type of treatment for his particular type of cancer, which he was diagnosed with when he was only 27. (Very scary to me personally, because my youngest son was 27 yesterday.)
Brian never dreamed he’d make it to his 60th birthday (and frankly, I wasn’t so sure either), so it was with a sense of grateful joy and awe that our Birthday Club treated Brian to a very special birthday party yesterday!
Where to take him? That was easy! The day before he was born, his mother and father were at the John Ball Zoo, and his mom started having contractions, so Brian says he was “almost born at the zoo!”
Brian only visited the zoo once in his life, on his 10th birthday, and he remembered being fascinated by the antics of the otters. Since he hasn’t been back in 50 years, he thought visiting the zoo would be the perfect way to spend his day!
Of course, we wanted to see everything (and pretty much did), but—you know—like everybody, we wanted to make sure we saw “the lions,
But, there was no shortage of excitement and fun, including a few “firsts” for Brian, such as petting a goat
and taking a ride on a funicular. (Not sure they were on his bucket list as such, but he thoroughly enjoyed the new experiences!)
We also made a new friend: Herbie! Herbie is 34 and one of the oldest Magellanic penguins in captivity in the world. Herbie’s fur is almost all grey, and he seemed content to swim on the surface, but he was still swimming! It was a little hard not to miss some of the similarities between our new and old friends. Very touching.
Oh, but I wanted to tell you about how teamwork makes the dream work! In this photo, you see Susan in a wheel chair! She turned her ankle helping one of her daughters the day before our outing. Thankfully, her beloved husband took a day off work to help us get the dream team around!
An aphorism of their son-in-law, Seth’s (so we call it a Sethism), is that “teamwork makes the dream work.” I don’t know who said it first, so if you know, please let us know, but . . .isn’t this a clever truism?
And, isn’t God good!? Brian was never able to marry or have a family. His father died several years ago, and his mother passed away 23 weeks ago to the day. But, he has us. He has a family of brothers and sisters in Christ to love him and appreciate him. Brian is a real prayer warrior! He can’t travel much, but he never misses a prayer meeting via telephone for the church on Sunday morning, and he’s never missed a single Monday night prayer meeting for my son Jonathan’s ministry.
He’s knitted booties for all our grand kids, always smiles, and always says it’s too early to start complaining (although he could well have started 33 years ago).
“God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land” (Psalm 68:6).
When we planned our trip to Ludington State Park for Susan’s birthday outing (months ago), I had visions of bright blue skies and balmy weather, but the weather—like all of life—is totally unpredictable, isn’t it?!
Instead of sunshine, there was a misty rain. Instead of being 80° (which it had been one day last week), it was 52° with a stiff wind.
We debated whether or not we should even try the four-mile hike to the lighthouse because, despite bundling, we knew we’d be uncomfortably cold by the time we climbed to the top of the Big Sable Lighthouse.
However, it seemed like the right thing to do, so we persevered.
It was indeed windy and bone-chillingly cold at the top!
But then, as if by magic, when we descended and started our trek back to the car, a streak of blue appeared along the horizon!
In less than an hour, the dark storm clouds blew away, and soon we were immersed in a world of bright blue skies and—well, maybe not balmy, but certainly lovely—springtime weather!
We recovered with a very late and very yummy lunch at the House of Flavors, where we celebrated Susan’s birthday with gifts and happy conversation. Our Birthday Club isn’t just dedicated to honoring the birthday girl, it’s a time to celebrate the blessings of God and the encouragement of friendship, so there is often a theme and some thoughtful sharing of comforting verses as well as communal prayer on the way home.
This year, Cindi had found a 100+year-old book of poetry from an antique shop (Souvenir Rhymes by James Hamilton) and read some to us. My favorite concerned the preciousness of faithful friends who administer mercy and grace to one another, which I’ll include at the end.
There is something very nurturing about true friends who inspire one another to persevere, not only through gloomy weather but also through gloomy circumstances. I thank God for every treasured friend of mine, and for every person who is willing to be a friend to someone else.
Are you feeling discouraged and sad? We all need companions to journey with us, not only through the bright and balmy times of life, but when the wind is in our faces and we’re not prepared for the unexpected and sometimes very miserable changes in our situations. We need one another to help us push on until the rain passes by and the sun starts shining again!
Have you got a friend? Be a friend! Reach out. We need each other! “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrew 10:23-25, ESV).
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17, ESV).
This was a playful photo was taken when our Birthday Club visited the Michigan History Museum in Lansing. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but I have since! My petty personal problem (currently having a little finger still sporting external pins) pales in the light of the tribulations many people are enduring. Harder still are this world’s global concerns. I’ve recently finished Elie Weisel’s touching book, Open Heart . . . the reflections of an 82-year-old survivor of Auschwitz and a Nobel Laureate. He thought that after World War II, people would learn from the devastation, and that oppression would cease, but this has not happened. The fight for right over wrong, good over evil, and life over death will go on as long as man lives on earth. Our job is to keep fighting and never give up!
Whatever our challenges, God is there and wants to help us. We are encouraged in the New Testament: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Some members of my family will be participating in an all-night prayer vigil at Moody in Chicago tonight. Come join in if you have time! God hears and responds to our earnest cries for help, and we citizens of earth need HELP!
Psalm 18, written by King David after he’d been delivered from his enemies, is (to me) the perfect example of how God wants us to approach Him for deliverance from troubles!
I will love thee, O Lord, my strength.
2 The Lord
is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in
whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high
3 I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.
4 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.
5 The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.
6 In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.
7 Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth.
8 There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it.
9 He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet.
10 And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.
12 At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire.
13 The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice; hail stones and coals of fire.
14 Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them.
15 Then the channels of waters were seen, and the foundations of the world were discovered at thy rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of thy nostrils.
16 He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters.
17 He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me.
18 They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the Lord was my stay.
19 He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.
20 The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.
21 For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22 For all his judgments were before me, and I did not put away his statutes from me.
23 I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity.
24 Therefore hath the Lord recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight.
25 With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright;
26 With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward.
27 For thou wilt save the afflicted people; but wilt bring down high looks.
28 For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.
29 For by thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall.
30 As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him.
31 For who is God save the Lord? or who is a rock save our God?
32 It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect.
33 He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places.
34 He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms.
hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath
holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.
36 Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip.
37 I have pursued mine enemies, and overtaken them: neither did I turn again till they were consumed.
38 I have wounded them that they were not able to rise: they are fallen under my feet.
39 For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle: thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me.
40 Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies; that I might destroy them that hate me.
41 They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the Lord, but he answered them not.
42 Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind: I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets.
hast delivered me from the strivings of the people; and thou hast made
me the head of the heathen: a people whom I have not known shall serve
44 As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto me.
45 The strangers shall fade away, and be afraid out of their close places.
46 The Lord liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted.
47 It is God that avengeth me, and subdueth the people under me.
delivereth me from mine enemies: yea, thou liftest me up above those
that rise up against me: thou hast delivered me from the violent man.
49 Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name.
50 Great deliverance giveth he to his king; and sheweth mercy to his anointed, to David, and to his seed for evermore.
Do you love scallops? I do, although they’re so expensive I rarely ever eat them. I had some last fall at Judson’s Steakhouse in the BOB (here in Grand Rapids, MI) when my son Joel took me out for a special birthday treat!Alan and I also ordered some “Scallops Florentine” for an appetizer at Charlie’s Crab, where we went to celebrate our 46th anniversary last month.Over the years, I’ve enjoyed them on various special occasions, and particularly last summer on our cruise of the North Sea aboard the Celebrity Summit, where scallops were often part of the offerings, not only as a main course, but as a possibility for adding to gourmet spaghetti, as an appetizer (here mixed with avocado, tomatoes, and seasonings), as part of a fresh salad (with lettuce, red onions, tomatoes, green beans, apple chunks, and olives in a light vinaigrette dressing),deep-fried as kabobs with seasoned fries and a sriracha/mayonnaise dip, or as part of a seafood platter extravaganza. Scallops are so special to me that I decided to make some for our annual high tea, where we three Birthday Clubbers invite our guys to join us for an evening of fellowship and unusual taste treats. Here’s a simple but delicious recipe:
Sizzling, Bacon-Wrapped Scallops
1. Fry six slices of bacon until nearly done but still flexible. 2. Wrap a strip of bacon around each scallop and secure with a toothpick. (When you shop, make sure the scallops are very firm and fresh; they should not smell fishy! 😦 )3. Season by sprinkling with seasoning salt (I use Lawry’s), dried, crushed garlic, onion powder, basil, and pepper, then fry for 3 minutes at medium-high heat on each side. Serve immediately or cover until ready to serve and then heat quickly to full temperature. (Best if eaten piping hot right away so they don’t get overcooked and mushy.)
“Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness.” (Psalm 65:11)
Although I think of cream pies as a summery treat, they’re wonderful any time of year, and they’re fairly simple to make from scratch. Coconut cream is my friend Cindi’s favorite pie, and almost every year I make her one for her birthday. One year, I didn’t have time, so I bought her one at our local “Downtown Market”: $26! I’m quite sure you can make one at home for a quarter of the price (if not less). Here’s how:
Homemade Cream Pies: Coconut, Chocolate, or Banana (The recipe is for one pie, although the photos are of two pies, so what you’re seeing is actually a doubled recipe.)
Preheat the oven to 350°F.Crust:
Blend together: 1 package graham crackers (9 whole ones), ground up in blender 1/4 cup melted butter 1/3 cup sugar 1/4 teaspoon cinnamonPat into the bottom of a 10-11″ round pie pan and bake for 12 minutes, or until starting to brown around the edges.Take it out of the oven and place it on a cutting board to cool. Meanwhile, while the crust is baking, make your filling.Filling:
In a large cooking pot, mix 1 cup sugar 1.5 tablespoons corn starch. Mix together thoroughly, then add 2 eggs ((one at a time). Stir until completely mixed, then add 2 cups of milk. Stir again thoroughly. Add: 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 oz) butter
Turn on the heat to medium high, and stir constantly until the butter melts and the filling thickens and starts to bubble. I use a spatula, so it scraps a big swath across the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring it, making sure you scrap everywhere around the bottom of the pan so it never sticks, burns, or clumps. If you do it right, you’ll have a marvelously smooth, mellow custard pudding when you’re finished! As a finishing touch, add: 1 teaspoon vanilla and stir until completely blended. Next step:You can use this basic custard to create coconut cream, chocolate, or banana cream pies. Here’s how: For coconut cream; add 7 oz. of shredded coconut. (I use sweetened coconut flakes, but unsweetened might suit your needs better if you’re trying to use less sugar.) Mix well and pour gently on top of the crust. (The crust can be hot or cooled.)
For chocolate cream: add (while the pudding is still hot) 1/3 cup dark processed cocoa powder OR 12 oz. (1.5 cups) chocolate chips (stir until they’re melted), and then pour onto the pie crust (hot or cooled).
For banana cream:let the pudding cool down, then add sliced bananas (2 large or 3 medium). Stir very gentle so you don’t mash the bananas, then pour the mixture into a cooled crust. Refrigerate to keep the bananas from deteriorating. Banana cream pies need to be eaten as soon as possible, because the bananas won’t stay fresh for several days, the way chocolate or coconut cream will. Last step: For all three pies, just before serving, top each with whipped cream:
Blend in a mixer until medium peaks form: 8 oz. heavy cream 1 tablespoon sugar Serve up for dessert after dinner, or as a tea time treat! “I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord” (Psalm 104:33-34). My spiritual mother used to say that meditating on the Bible is like eating shredded wheat when you’re young, like eating a hamburger when you’re older, but like enjoying a bowl of peaches and cream when you’re old. I think I’ve gotten old! 🙂
This fall’s birthday adventure took us all the way down to the golden corn fields of northern Indiana and a little corner of the world where time seems to have stopped about a hundred and fifty years ago!Shipshewana (affectionately called “Shipshe” by the residents) is home to one of America’s thriving communities of Amish folks. There are about a third of a million Amish people living in the United States now, mostly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. They are most easily recognized by their head coverings, simple, modest dress and style of transportation, which is exclusively horse-drawn carriages. (They will not own—but will ride—on other forms of transportation, such as school buses for the children.) If you want to take a tour of the town, they offer horse-drawn buggy rides!Or, you can eat sitting in a buggy at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in the little burg of Middlebury, which is where the girls took me for wonderful, old-fashioned buffet lunch of great country (and Amish-style) cooking!If you go to northern Indiana’s Amish country, I definitely recommend enjoying some of their excellent food, but come hungry, because you will get very full! 🙂
Besides yummy food, there are all sorts of interesting shops to visit, so save some time to explore their wonderful assortment of homey craft stores. They’re also famous for their simple but sturdy, hand-crafted furniture. Susan’s youngest daughter married a young man whose mom works in Shipshe, so we stopped by for a visit!I always think of Grand Rapids as having a lot of Christian influence, but for those of us who love Scripture, Shipshewana is a shopper’s paradise!
The focus of the afternoon was a visit to Menno-Hof, a museum of Mennonite and Amish history. Menno-Hoff is a warm combination of personally guided segments of the tour and state-of-the-art audio-visual explanations. As I have baptist/brethren roots, I felt a real connection with the “anabaptist” movement that eventually spawned the Mennonite and Amish communities, although it wasn’t clear to me from reading the information at the museum if they believe the Gospel…the wonderful good news of salvation by faith alone through Christ, or if they are somehow depending on their humility, modesty, good works, and self-denial and to qualify them for heaven. (If you are Amish and read this, please feel free to explain the Amish position to us, will you? Do you believe you are saved by being a faithful disciple, or do you pursue God’s holiness as an expression of gratefulness for his salvation?) We couldn’t do the museum justice in less than an hour or two, and it would have been easy to linger for longer, although the girls had more in store yet!One popular myth about the Amish is that if a farmer has an eligible daughter, he paints his front gate blue, which means young men may come ‘a courting! Although this is apparently not really true, The Blue Gate Restaurant capitalizes on the long-standing fable, and they serve wonderful food…such as you could imagine a mother might serve up to a favored prospective beau for her daughter! It was the perfect place to stop in for our birthday party, and to experience some of their popular peanut butter, custard, and pumpkin pies. Diet alert for sure!! In all, we had another spectacular day, and I can heartily recommend visiting Shipshe sometime if you’re looking for a quiet, cozy place to relax and reflect. The Amish folks live plain, simple lives, but everything we saw was pleasant! Even their public restrooms (like the Blue Gate’s) were clean and beautiful! And, everywhere we looked, there was something to lift our hearts to God! So, if you’d like to get away from the frenetic pace of life sometime, consider an afternoon or weekend retreat in an Amish community!
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
My kids sometimes tease about the fact that the Birthday Club started out as a couple of hours in the afternoon for coffee and cake, over the years expanded to include lunch, and now (14 years later) has become a full day affair! In response, Cindi says we should try to make it sound slightly more legitimate by calling it “The Birthday Research Committee,” since we are always trying to find interesting new places to explore and often take our husbands or kids there later. And, of course—it’s fun to share my finds with any of you who live in the area! 🙂So, after our hike along the Grand River, and in keeping with our river theme, we stopped for lunch at The English Inn in Eaton Rapids, also on the Grand River. If you’re ever wishing you could go for a romantic getaway to jolly old England without having to fly across the Atlantic, have I ever got a deal for you! The English Inn is not only a first-class restaurant, it’s also a beautifully updated Bed’n’Breakfast where you can get a quaint room starting at $115 per night (which is admittedly a lot, but that’s a lot less than flying to England). This 90-year-old classic Tudor Revival home was first built for Irving Reuter, who was the general manager of the Oldsmobile Corporation and one of the first ten to invest in General Motors.Today, it’s been expanded to include a banquet hall that can facilitate wedding receptions for up to 250 guests, although the original mansion has been completely renovated and filled with elegant period pieces. Since 1991, it’s been listed in the State Registry of Historic Sites. We were running late and feared we’d miss out on lunch, since they only serve until 1:30 pm, but Cindi called, and they very graciously remained open to serve us, even though we were their only customers at that late hour. The food was exceptional, and all three of us were very pleased. I had the beef and rarebit and will definitely be trying to figure out how to imitate their great tenderloin tips and creamy rarebit! If possible, even better than the outstanding food was their impeccable hospitality. Our waiter assured us that we could linger as long as we wished over lunch (which we did!), told us all about the history of The English Inn, and then later toured us around, inviting us to meander through their extensive gardens.I read this about them: “As it once was during the Reuter’s tenure, fine dining and hospitality remain the order of the evening at The English Inn.” Absolutely! The English Inn is nestled along the Grand River and reminded me of a time our family stayed at The Talbot Inn along the River Thames near Oxford, England.If anything, I would say The English Inn is even more elegant and gracious, and it made me reflect on the possibility of an imitation becoming even more beautiful than an original. As a Christian, I will never come close to being as perfect and spiritually beautiful as Jesus, because He truly is God incarnate. But, it inspired me to work at becoming a more gracious and lovely imitation!
“Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Like a River Glorious (—Frances R. Havergal, 1876)
Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious, in its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.
Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.
Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.
Every joy or trial falleth from above,
Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;
We may trust Him fully, all for us to do;
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.