The Birthday Club: Time to Stroll Lowell

Do you have trouble finding time to get together with your friends no matter how much you want to be together? I’ve found that “time” has gotten to be more of an issue than ever before. Who would have guessed you get busier as you get older? I remember my father joking after he retired that he needed to go back to work so he could take a week off. Thirty years ago, I just thought it was funny. Now, I know what he meant!

Nevertheless, six weeks after the fact, Susan, Cindi, and I met up for a “Stroll through Lowell” (Michigan) to celebrate my birthday!

We started with coffee and tea at the new coffee shop, Brody’s Be (actually in Ada, the little berg next door to Lowell).

Brody’s Be was inspired by Brody’s mom, who opened her heart to make room in this world for the developmentally disabled, starting with her Down Syndrome son.

It was a great place to fill our cups and souls, remembering again how God can bring joy out of sorrow and goodness from grief.

Lowell is a little community about eighteen miles east of Grand Rapids, and it looks like it’s straight out of a Hallmark Christmas movie! (They have a Christmas Parade coming up on December 7th that looks like it’s going to be a really fun event.)

Lowell has all sorts of cute shops on their Main St., and although I didn’t think I had anything on my “Wish List” as we wandered about, I quickly found several items that I’d actually been wanting but hadn’t taken time to track down in Grand Rapids, such as some blue netting for my orchid plants and a Christmas Advent calendar. Springrove Variety also has great prices on their spices. Believe it or not, this tiny 5&10 cent store saved me both time and money! Who would have thought?!!

After just enough shopping to get a flavor for the town and whet our appetites, the girls took me to the Flat Iron Grill for lunch. Definitely excellent food, and the company—as always—was unparalleled! 🙂

However, we were apparently taking a tour of all the best eateries in the area as well as enjoying the shopping, because “the best” in desserts (according to hearsay Susan had learned) was to be found at the Sweet Seasons Bakery, which is renowned for providing cheesecakes for certain celebrities in town.

I tried their pumpkin cheesecake, and it was wonderful . . . definitely worth attempting to imitate!! (I’ll work on it!)

Of course, no party would be complete without cards or gifts, and I got both!

Among several thoughtful and useful gifts, I particularly enjoyed the children’s book Cindi gave me, called Miss Rumphius (because, she said, it reminded her of me). I know my grandchildren are going to love this book about a librarian who travels the world and scatters flower seeds!

“A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.”

Susan found “the perfect” card that says it all. What would the world be without friends?

Ability Weavers: Weaving with a Purpose

We finished our stroll through Lowell with a four-hour craft project, making handmade rugs and table runners. I hope to tell you more about our experience weaving, but for today, I want to share that this weaving shop, “Ability Weavers,” is another not-for-profit ministry borne out of the love of a mother for her autistic daughter with a heart to provide meaningful employment for people with disabilities.

Honestly, I was blown away by the commitment of these two families in caring and providing for their disabled kids. Beryl (in the photo above) was a pharmacist who gave up her career in order to start a business where her daughter (and others with special needs) could have work, respect, and hope. They pay more than minimum wage and provide an opportunity for many young people to contribute to society by making beautiful rugs. Isn’t this brilliant? Praise God for mothers who sacrifice themselves and choose to invest their time and energy in their children and communities!

One last sidebar, and I’ll quit, but I’m halfway through reading Kisses from Katie. Oh, wow! If you want to read a wonderful (true) story of love for those in need, read this! It will break your heart and make your day! Talk about using time well and living with the purpose of loving others!

The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.”
(Psalm 9:9)

Have You Experienced Being Indivisible? How About Iraq?

If you are in the military, have a loved one in the military, or would like to get a little better appreciation for the sacrifices and challenges facing those who are giving their lives to protect our safety, then I want to encourage you to watch Indivisible. (By the way, I’m guessing the pressures and problems would be very similar for any military personnel from a democratic nation.)

Indivisible (2018) is based on the true story of Army Chaplain Darren Turner, who was deployed to Iraq back in 2007, fresh out of seminary and basic training.

This left his wife, Heather, alone at Fort Stewart to care for their three young children among the community of other women whose husbands were also deployed.

Every deployment is dangerous and gut-wrenchingly difficult, but Darren ended up supporting the Special Forces, which was sort of the hardest of the hard!

I have a son in the military who was deployed to Iraq, and I can vouch for the constant strain and fear that I battled as a mother, who spent many hours on her knees while he was gone.

Indivisible does a masterful job of relating the terrors and traumas of war. Will our loved one survive? Will he be injured? Will he recover?

Even if he survives, will he be able to overcome all the horrors of death and destruction that he’s experienced?

What about the wives who’ve been left behind, who are constantly plagued by an emotional roller coaster of worry while trying to be emotionally stable for their children?

For many families, life is never quite the same after living through a deployment, and trying to rebuild a strong marriage bond is more of a challenge than some marriages can handle.

The lessons that Darren and Heather learned (and have been willing to share) are critical for young couples who are serving in the military. I wish every person in the service or who has a loved one in military service would see this movie!

It’s raw. It’s real. It’s sad, but there’s also a message of hope for a light at the end of the tunnel of PTSD and broken hearts.

God made a way for Darren, Heather, and a bunch of brave young soldiers and their wives, and He can do the same for you.

No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NABRE).

Calling Versus Being Allured

Walking on the water

Sometimes You call us;
Sometimes we are lured away.
Always—You’ll rescue!

Last Sunday our church commissioned a young female surgeon who is heading off the Africa as a missionary. To me, that’s nothing short of asking her to walk on water, and yet I know it’s possible that she will do just fine, since during the Ebola epidemic a few years back, another young female surgeon with tremendous courage left the safety of Grand Rapids to help out with the epidemic in Africa . . . and lived to tell about it.

Probably more often than not, people are lured over their heads by temptation rather than calling, but I know God loves us and is willing to help us regardless. Whether we break through the ice accidentally, like John Smith, or we’re drawn to some addictive idol and find ourselves drowning, or we’re called to walk through oceans of difficulty with Jesus, He will rescue us if we’re willing to turn to him for help.

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” ( Isaiah 43:1-3).


“Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” (by Hillsong United)

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
And You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Saviour

Oh, Jesus, you’re my God!

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

(The two beautiful paintings are used by permission of Yongsung Kim. I will share more about him next week! Thank you!! To see more of his work, click here! https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search;_ylt=AwrCwLB8IqZce2cAeQ0PxQt.;_ylu=X3oDMTByMjB0aG5zBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzYw–?p=yongsung+kim+paintings&fr=yhs-SGMedia-sgmedia_maps&hspart=SGMedia&hsimp=yhs-sgmedia_maps#id=83&iurl=https%3A%2F%2Fmelaniejeanjuneau.files.wordpress.com%2F2014%2F07%2F4ecee8ce284d4b49e0b89f77132b6122.jpg%3Fw%3D452%26h%3D539&action=click )

Introducing Dr. Collins: Harmonizing Science and Faith

Recently, Alan and I had the great privilege of hearing Dr. Francis Collins, who was nominated to become the sixteenth director of the NIH (National Institutes of Health) during the tenure of Barak Obama in 2009 and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate . . . a post he continues to hold even today during Trump’s presidency (which says quite a bit about his character  🙂  ). Also, the fact that the NIH, with its $39 billion annual budget, is the world’s largest health research/applied science program, speaks highly of the trust placed in him! Dr. Collins is one of the world’s most renowned scientists and has received prestigious recognitions such as election to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, being the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science, and being appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by Pope Benedict XVI. Dr. Collins came to Grand Rapids, not in his capacity as Director of the NIH, but to a private event hosted by the President’s Circle of Biologos, an organization he helped birth and guide, which is dedicated to the marriage of faith and science.   The International Headquarters of Biologos is here in Grand Rapids, and David and Carol Van Andel (whose parents founded the Van Andel Institute for biomedical research in Grand Rapids) are avid supporters and sponsors. Dr. Collins’s presentation was fascinating! He started out by sharing his personal career journey from a small farm in the Shanendoah Valley of Virginia (where he was home schooled by non-religious parents) to Yale University for a PhD in chemistry . . . to medical school for an MD degree . . . to research at the University of Michigan as  “The Gene Hunter,” and eventually to overseeing the Human Genome Sequencing Consortium, which was the group that successfully carried out the Human Genome Project (mapping human genes). Interwoven with his career progress was the account of his spiritual progress, from believing in nothing, to being challenged by an elderly patient (who seemed radiantly at peace about death), to grappling with the big question: “Can a scientist also believe in God?” After two years of research and wrestling,* Dr. Collins decided that the evidences pointing to the existence of a Creator God were more compelling than the arguments against. As a geneticist, who can miss the beyond brilliant design of DNA? And, what about the stunning improbability of life occurring spontaneously . . . something like 10 to the 500 billionth power?! Did you know there are some 86 billion neurons in the brain? It’s the most complex mechanism in the universe. How could that all happen by chance? And, what about the Big Bang? Doesn’t that argue eloquently for the veracity of the Genesis account—that in the beginning God spoke the universe into existence by the breath of his mouth? Talk about a BIG BANG!! In addition to sharing his professional and faith journeys, Dr. Collins gave some fascinating insights into the promises and problems of genetic engineering.  For example, through gene modification and therapies, they can now save the lives of infants who are born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (a type of ALS that attacks and kills infants in the first months of life). Research is ongoing for a way to save people with Huntington’s Disease. There are genes that can act as “police” to track down and destroy certain types of cancer cells. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? The potential for health benefits is  incredible. One of the ways in which any of us could get involved is in participating in a study of genes through http://www.joinallofus.org. They are looking for a million people who are willing to have their genes mapped. As of now, they have 130,000 volunteers. Want to help? Of course, as with all advances, there are moral dilemmas. For instance, they can now develop a human heart in a pig embryo. This type of genetic modification produces a cross between a human and an animal, known as a chimeras. It could save a lot of human lives, but is it ethical? You can only imagine the implications, including the making of science fiction horror stories. Thankfully, Dr. Collins didn’t leave us on that discouraging note. Rather, he called on Christian thinkers, scientists and theologians, to come to the table and help discern the godly path through all the vast possibilities to produce the truest and best results for physical and spiritual health globally. And then, for his final note, he picked up his guitar, called Dr. Deborah Haarma (president of Biologos) to assist him at the piano, and led us all in worship, as we sang to our great God, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Truly, God is faithful, and He alone can lead us into the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake! Our call is simply to follow where he leads.By the way, Dr. Collins has also written a New York Times’ Best Seller on genetics called The Language of God. If you’re grappling with how to marry science and faith in your life, you might really profit from reading his book.

“The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4)

*One of the books Dr. Collins read was Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, which was also instrumental in my mother’s conversion. It’s an excellent book if you’re wrestling with the plausibility of God’s existence.

Nana Time and Time Outs

I know that all grandparents thinks their grandchildren are the sweetest, most clever and most fun children in existence, proving their undying devotion by carrying around photos (mostly on their cell phones these days), and making smart remarks like, “If I’d known how much fun grandchildren were going to be, I’d have skipped being a parent the first time and just gone straight to being a grandparent.”  I assume that means that it’s much easier to “love ’em and leave ’em,” or—when a grandchild pitches a fit or needs a diaper change, you can hand them off to their parents…enjoying all the benefits without any of the responsibilities.  I’d been enjoying the luxury of such easy relationships with my grandchildren until the day after Baby Marius was born. That night, Grace spiked a fever, and the next day Michael took her to the hospital, where she remained for three days. Because the baby wasn’t born at the hospital, Grace didn’t end up in the Ob/Gen unit, so in order for Marius to be with Grace, Michael had to stay at the hospital with them to care for the baby.  This left me actually responsible—HOME ALONE— with the four older grandchildren. I hadn’t been completely responsible for four youngsters since my first four were kids, which was 35 years ago. (Well, even if I think about the youngest four of my seven, that was still 27 years ago.)  Here they are:  Eowyn is an angel. If it hadn’t been for Eowyn, life would have been very trying! She’s only 10, but she’s a tireless helper, knows where everything is and how all the family routines go.  She would read to the smaller kids and has such a gentle, kind spirit. Eowyn used to write me almost every day, but she’s started writing more serious stories, so she passed the baton (cell phone) to Nycteris, who has become my Foreign Correspondent, sends me notes and pictures, and helps me feel like Michael’s family isn’t so far away…even though they are! (For instance, she recently gave me a walking tour of their new home in Belgium!) Nycteris is also an able helper and was especially good with Paladin when I wasn’t sure how to handle him.  Judah is very sensitive and sweet. He’s a builder/engineer type, plays peacefully by himself for hours if left to his own devices (as did his father), and takes a lot of abuse from his little brother with way more patience than I would have, had I ever been an older brother!  Paladin will be wonderful, I am sure, but at age three, he was not at all with the program. Having a new baby, losing both his mother and father to the hospital, inheriting a Nana whom he’s only met a few times, having the house in a bit of an uproar as they were packing to move, trying to survive 98°heat every day and about the same in humidity… It was a big challenge for all of us, but for Paladin, it was almost more than he could handle. So, instead of tucking under my wing and enjoying his doting Nana, he decided to act out by throwing rocks at his sibs or attempting to beat them with sticks…or whatever.  Now, if there’s one thing I hate, it’s having to discipline, but I was afraid he was actually going to hurt the kids, so when he’d fly into a fit, I’d grab him and hold him on my lap until he settled down. I would say (as cheerfully as possible), “You must need a Nana Time Out!”  At first he would struggle and try to bite me to get away, but thankfully, he was small enough that I could hold him on my lap and avoid his teeth. In a few minutes, he’d settle right down, and after a hug and a kiss, we’d be friends, and he’d be calm.  After about the third tantrum, he stopped picking fights with the kids, and we all got along very well the rest of our time until Mike and Grace returned with Baby Marius…all fine and well!  Whew! It was just great to have them back and relax into chief helper and side kick rather than needing to parent the kids. It reminded me again just how exhausting and challenging it is to be a parent. God bless all you parents out there! Thank you for hanging in there 24/7 to love and guide your children!  Also, it made me appreciate what a good parent my heavenly Father is, who also holds me in his mighty arms. When I was young, he often had to hold me tight when I’d pitch a fit, although more often nowadays, I just curl up on his lap for comfort!

“The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27)

Unstoppable Enthusiasm

This summer we’ve had the privilege of seeing all our kids and grand children at some point. This is our third-born, Jonathan, who was kayaking out on our lake with his oldest daughter in the rain one morning. I just sat and smiled as I watched them from the window. There was no thunder or lightning, so it probably wasn’t very dangerous, but it was cold and windy. It reminded me of watching Jonathan and his brother Michael sitting in the pouring rain once at a Disney “Movie Under the Stars” night. We’d gone as a family to the Fort Wilderness campfire and to watch a Disney film on an outdoor screen—along with a big crowd of happy campers—but when it started to rain, almost everybody left to find cover back at their campsites, and the few stragglers who remained were huddling under the roof of the concession stand. As I watched Mike and Jon, sitting totally exposed, rain streaming off their hats, one of the other huddlers commented, “Look at those crazy kids!” Yep. I was lookin’!

I’m thankful for my crazy kids who do things that most people wouldn’t dream of doing. Jon (Dr. Armstrong) just started a new program at Moody Bible Institute last January called the Center for Global Theological Education, “CGTE” (referred to as “C-GATE”), with the mission of developing quality, college-level, Christian theological education in virtual reality classroom settings for anybody who wants it—worldwide—free of charge. Sound impossible? If I didn’t know Jonathan, I’d say “yes,” but knowing Jon, I just smile. And pray. If God be for it, who can stand against it?

And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

By the way, CGTE is already offering freeing virtual reality classes in a variety of biblical and theological topics. If your church would be interested in hosting one of these seminars, you may write Jonathan at jonathan.armstrong@moody.edu.

(P.S.—If you have extra time and would like to be a part of Jon’s ministry, please contact Jonathan. He’s hoping that CGTE will be one of the world’s most satisfying places for Christians to volunteer, and—of course—much of the work can be done remotely! If you want to check out what’s going on already, here’s the link to his website: https://aqueductproject.org/.)

 

Alan Celebrates 68 Years and 10 Years…and the First Graduation of Pine Rest’s New Psychiatric Residency Program

This past month has been super special for Alan and me.  Alan celebrated his 68th birthday as well as his 10th anniversary as CMO (chief medical officer) at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services here in Grand Rapids, which is one of the largest free-standing psychiatric hospitals in America (and I would like to think and do hope that it’s also one of the best). One of Alan’s greatest passions as CMO has been the development of a psychiatric residency program, and recently we were able to enjoy the fruit of all his labor (and that of countless others) by celebrating the graduation of the first class of residents who completed Pine Rest’s rigorous four-year program.For me personally, the most gratifying aspect of their residency is the huge number of people they’ve been able to help over these years.The residents are from all walks of life and faith (or non-faith), but there is an optional track of the program that integrates faith and practice, and Pine Rest is beginning to attract more doctors who are interested in the spiritual side of life. Not only is the program comprehensive in treating the whole person, it’s also academically excellent. Pine Rest has an awesome research program that is affiliated with Michigan State University, and these bright, young physicians are doing fantastic research.At the last Michigan Psychiatric Society meeting (which included other prestigious schools such as University of Michigan, etc.), five out of the six winners were all from Pine Rest! Dr. Bill Sanders, who’s the residency director, is not only a great psychiatrist, he’s a stellar teacher and a super personable guy whom everybody loves (including Alan and me). He took the time to reflect on each of the residents and honored them with beautiful tributes.He pointed out that the residents were really phenomenal and overcame huge obstacles to complete the program. (One young woman was from Eastern Europe, causing language and other challenges, and another young woman was rushed to the hospital to have a baby just after receiving her diploma!)In all, it was a wonderful night of celebration, but what impacted me the most was this insight from Bill’s remarks: “Emina helps us remember that if we look around the room at every single difference you can see- everything noticeable to your eye, from sex to skin tone to eye color to the size and shape-everything visible is the result of something less than one-tenth and a half percent of our genome makeup, but otherwise we are the same. The typical overall difference between the genomes of two individuals is estimated at 20 million base pairs (or 0.6% of the total of 3.2 billion base pairs). Essentially, confirming all the teachings of all the great witnesses from ancient times- that what we have in common is more important than our interests and differences. Emina reminds us that we live in a world where we will only be able to appreciate the differences if we embrace what we have in common and act on it. I hope and believe we all do that.”Isn’t that fantastic? “…what we have in common is more important than our interests and differences…we will only be able to appreciate the differences if we embrace what we have in common and act on it.” How true, and what great advice for each of us!

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)