Category Archives: Gardens

The Taj Mahal: “Jewel of Muslim Art in India”

The Taj Mahal is in Agra, India, along the Yamuna River. It was voted one of the New7Wonders of the World in 2007
by over 100 million voters (largest poll in the world at that time).  It’s valued at over US$ 827 million and considered by many
to be the world’s premiere example of Mughal architecture.        It is perhaps the most perfect architectural monument in the world.  Commissioned in 1632 by Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his beloved wife, (Mumtaz Mahal, who died at the age of 38 giving birth to their 14th child), the Taj Mahal (which means “Crown of the Palace”) took 20,000 artisans twenty-two years to complete and was made of white marble  inlaid with precious and semi precious stones.  Because the Taj Mahal is Muslim artistry,

the exterior walls include some calligraphy from the Qur’an, carefully written with perspective so that you can read the letters at the top almost as easily as those right in front of you. The Taj Mahal is also a sacred site, so everyone is required to cover their feet (or go barefoot, but the hot pavement would burn your feet pretty badly, I’d think). Thankfully, the Taj staff provide shoe coverings as part of the admission price. My mom adored all things adventurous, especially if they involved travel. In fact, she was such a free spirit that she imagined being the daughter of gypsy parents dropped off on her parents’ doorsteps. Given how much she looked like her six siblings, I never took her tale seriously, but I definitely absorbed her curiosity about the world. Mom graduated to heaven before Bucket Lists became a thing, but had there been Bucket Lists while she was still alive, visiting the Taj Mahal would have been at the top of hers, because she always wanted to see it (although she never did).I can remember as a little girl being enthralled with her stories about a love so strong that the emperor would build a palace just to commemorate his queen…a “teardrop on the cheek of time” (as romantically described by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore back when my mother was young).  Therefore, it was with an awe inspired since childhood and a touch of my mother’s spirit within that I visited this wonder of the ancient world with Alan and our Gate 1 Discovery Tour Group a few weeks ago! Although I thought I knew a lot about the Taj Mahal before we visited, I learned a lot more and discovered that real life experiences are never quite what you imagine they’re going to be! For one thing, the Taj Mahal isn’t “just” the gorgeous onion-domed building you see in books and movies.               It is part of a 42-acre complex which includes a working mosque,                                                                a guest house,                                                      gates and watch towers,                                                   and extensive gardens.     I also learned a few things about India, which is so different from the West!     For one thing, if you go to India, prepare for extremely hot, muggy weather.  I think it was 100°F (±) with about 95% humidity that day (and I’m not kidding or exaggerating), and I was lightheaded despite drinking water constantly.  There are 7-8 million tourists who visit the Taj Mahal every year, so it’s crowded, and there are lines. (That shouldn’t be surprising, especially in a country with 1.3 billion people…but it also adds to the heat.)                                Everybody was trying to keep in the shade,  and many people were sweating through their clothing. (One of Alan’s docs warned us: “I know I’m from India and should love all things Indian, but India is too hot!”) Oh, yes!!However, the most lasting impression from my visit is that life is even more magnificent experienced than explained, which makes me all the more excited to experience heaven, which God has promised to all those who love Him.As it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him
(1 Corinthians 2:9).

(I bought photos 1,3,11-13 from the photographer who was taking pictures for us. Photo 5 is a public domain photo from Wikipedia, because we were not allowed to take pictures inside the mausoleum. I took the rest a few weeks ago in India.)

 

Stratford Scenes and Asian Harvest Adages

Stratford, Ontario, on the Avon River, is a quaint and charming city that hosts the Stratford Festival every May-October. It’s the county seat for Perth County, has a population of just over 31,000,  and is reputed as being one of Canada’s best places to live (and retire).  While there, we always enjoy our strolls along the Avon River,  their beautiful Shakespeare Gardens, and the quiet ambience (and restaurants). Today, I’d like to combine some of my favorite photos from our holiday  with a few adages gleaned from An Asian Harvest I hope you’ll take time to ponder!

“To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.”
~Abraham Lincoln“If God calls you to be a missionary, don’t stoop to be a king.” ~Jordan Grooms  “The greatest missionary is the Bible in the Mother tongue. It never needs a furlough and is never considered a foreigner.” ~Cameron Townsend

“The greatest ability you will ever have is your availability” ~Paul Hattaway, quoting some of the best advice he ever received, from an old man in his church named Bruce.   “The principal danger of the 20th century will be: a religion without the Holy Spirit, Christians without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God and a heaven without a hell.” ~William Booth, 1899  Quotes by  “Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be strong men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be a miracle.” ~Phillips Brooks  “If you give God the right to yourself, He will make a holy experiment out of you. God’s experiments always succeed.” ~Oswald Chambers   “It is an extraordinary power from God, not talent, that wins the day. It is extraordinary spiritual unction, not mental power, that we need. Mental power may gather a large congregation, but only spiritual power will save souls.” ~Charles Spurgeon “It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed.” ~Charles Spurgeon  “Jesus has many who love His kingdom in heaven, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share His feast, but few His fasting. All desire to rejoice with Him, but few are willing to suffer for His sake…Those who love Jesus for His own sake, and not for the sake of comfort for themselves, bless Him in every trial and anguish of heart, no less than in the greatest joy. And were He never willing to bestow comfort on them, they would still always praise Him and give Him thanks. ~Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471)   “No one has the right to hear the gospel twice, while there remains someone who has not heard it once.” ~Oswald J. Smith  “The Lord rarely provided my needs early, but He was never late.”~Paul Hattaway   “What matters most to God is my obedience.” ~Paul Hattaway  “If left to flourish, small character flaws grow into large defects which can bring about a Christian’s demise.” ~Paul Hattaway   “I believe the Lord would rather His children attempt things for Him and fail than to never take a risk for His kingdom.” ~Paul Hattaway   “John Stott once warned of the dangers of Christian tadpoles in the Church. Tadpoles, he explained, have huge heads but little else.”   “Many preachers say, ‘Before someone can die for Jesus, they must first be willing to live for Him.’ That sounds logical, but I have discovered the opposite is equally true. Before we are able to live for Jesus, we must first be willing to die for Him.” ~Paul Hattaway   “As I gradually learned the principle that in the kingdom of God, human weakness equals strength and human strength equals weakness, our work became more effective.” ~Paul Hattaway                      “No broken life is beyond repair with Jesus.” ~Paul Hattaway  Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

Rise Up, My Love (250): What is the Vine?

Song of Solomon 7:12 “Let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth.” This is the third sequence of excursions (mission trips, if you will!) coupled with expressions of possession. First, the groom invited; second, the bride went out on her own; third, the wife invited.

The number three is often called the “perfect” number and is significant in the Bible as representing fullness or completion, so perhaps this last couplet reveals the blossomed attitudes of mature love. In the springtime of their love, the husband invited (2:10-12), and the bride apparently accompanied him, though somewhat timidly (2:14), her joy coming from the knowledge that she possessed her husband and was possessed by him (2:16). As their love matured, it became even more important to the bride that her husband possessed her than that she possessed him (6:3), and her response was to follow his example in going out to tend his gardens and gather fruit (6:2,11).

Finally, in this last couplet, the bride finds complete satisfaction in being possessed and desired by her husband (7:10), and she invites him to go out with her…almost a complete reversal in role and action from the beginning of the book. From being wooed to wooing, from needing to be coaxed to initiating service; from exalting over her own acquisition…to thrilling over being possessed and desired— what a transformation in the bride’s attitudes!

I wonder, in our relationship with Christ…where are we? Are we asking the Lord to take us out into the fields? Are we totally surrendered to him…so much so that our joy and glory is in being his possession, his willing servant…his treasure? Oh, to find our greatest satisfaction in being fully surrendered to our heavenly husband (and, for those of us who are wives, to our earthly husband as well!).

The next question is: Spiritually, what is the vine? Jesus said, “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). In what way can we see if the vine is flourishing then? Doesn’t Christ always flourish? Just as a man and a woman become “one flesh” when they are joined in marriage, so Christ and his bride—made up of the individual believers in the universal church—are “one flesh” in a great spiritual mystery.

So, how does the vine flourish? The bride elaborates: “whether the tender grape appear.” If the vine is bearing fruit, it is flourishing. How does the vine bear fruit? Jesus taught, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me, ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).

So, again…how does the vine flourish? The vine flourishes “if ye abide in me, and my words abide in you…if ye keep my commandments…that ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:7,10,12). Jesus, our heavenly groom, calls us to abide in him, his Word, and his love, and he promises that in so doing we shall “bring forth much fruit.” Are we abiding in him? Are we producing the fruits of obedience and love in our lives?

(The photo was taken in Italy this spring; it’s the only time I’ve ever seen a pomegranate tree budding right next to a grape vine, but I thought to myself, “How perfect!” [to illustrate this verse!])

 

Simple but Savory Zucchini Pizza Sticks

Now is the time that American gardens overflow with zucchinis and everybody is pulling out their favorite recipes for zucchini bread.  Always on the lookout for an idea that cuts starches, I tried making pizzas out of zucchini. First I  tried cutting them into rounds, but slicing them sideways works better and saves time. Next time you’re looking for a quick, healthy way to incorporate some zucchini into your menu plans, try this one:

Savory Zucchini Pizza Sticks
(makes enough for 2-4 for lunch, depending on how hungry your hippos are
and what else you’re serving)Wash, cut off the ends, and slice 4 young zucchinis lengthwise.  Place them skin-side down in a frying pan with 1 tablespoon melted butter.
Add salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder to taste.
Fry for two minutes on medium heat. Flip over and fry for two minutes more minutes, skin-side up.Flip again. They should be getting tender and starting to brown a little. Drizzle each stick with some of your favorite pizza (or spaghetti) sauce. Cover with slices of pepperoni
and top each with half a mozzarella cheese stick.Cover the pan and cook for 1-2 more minutes, until the cheese starts to melt.

Serve them immediately. They can also be cut into three chunks each and served as hors d’oeuvres, but if that’s what you want, then I think you’re better off to start with just one or two larger zucchinis and slice them into individual rounds, bake them on a buttered cookie sheet at 350°F. for about 6 minutes (with spices on top), and then add the sauce, pepperoni, and thin cut slices of mozzarella, baking them another 2-3 minutes. I tried this method first, but they end up drier and not as tender. I also found that it’s hard to keep the cheese from melting too much before the pepperoni is heated through.

And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them,
and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house
” (Acts 16:32).

 

Quotable Quotes from Don’t Settle for Safe

Tired of shadowboxing with your past? Feel like you’ll never overcome your present circumstances? Looking for inspiration to move forward and unleash the potential greatness inside? Don’t Settle for Safe is a classic empowerment book, geared for women and based on the life of Sarah Jakes Roberts, who overcame a teenage pregnancy and a failed marriage. Today she is not only the mother of six, she’s a bestselling author and media personality who works alongside her husband, Toure Roberts, in a ministry to Hollywood artists and professionals at One Church LA.  Speaking of greatness, I’m going to give you a long list of my favorite quotes from her book interspersed with photos from America’s largest privately owned estate, the Biltmore.  If her thoughts are a home run for you, consider reading the entire book, which is fresh off the press! “Your power to overcome is in your willingness to not just anticipate but embrace the unpredictability of life.”  (I believe true empowerment comes from God, but when we embrace God, then we’re no longer afraid to embrace an unpredictable future.)           “Your present holds more promise than anything that used to be.”  “Growth is produced through sacrifice…the gift of growing requires letting go…Letting go is trusting that we can carry the lessons from our past in our heart without constantly replaying the pain in our head.” (Spiritual growth comes from “abiding in the Vine” [Jesus], which also requires a certain amount of letting go in trust.)                                                  “Excuses are comfort zones.” “Name your pain.”   “Instant gratification often results in long-term disappointment.”   “What are your weeds? What thoughts and behaviors are keeping you from enjoying the full beauty of the heart God has given you? Your willingness to seek them out [and repent of them*]  will transform your heart,  producing compassion and creating opportunities to extend grace to others. The only way to remove the weeds is to combat them with humility. The fruit of such examination is not constant shame; it’s simple humility and grace.”  “Our greatest accomplishment comes when we have the ability to master our soul.” “If we’re going to commit to achieving a positive outlook on things that once devastated us, we will have to believe that the worst things that happened to us have the potential to work for our benefit.” “The problem with our teenage years is that often our observations are valid, but our perspective is very limited. It’s not until we’re older that we begin to tap into the compassion necessary to learn from those observations.”  “The last thing you want is to create a life that has been built on fear.”  “Your freedom cannot be contingent on whether or not  you’re able to convince others to embark upon the journey with you. It’s up to you to follow the path that leads to your liberation. Freedom and peace can inspire change within your family.”  “Combining your work and faith with His plan for your life creates momentum that transforms everything that should have stopped you into fuel that propels you into a destiny far greater than you could have imagined.”  “Did you know that your obstacles were assigned by God?”  “Confidence in God’s plan helps us to draw the conclusion that if we did not receive something it is because we did not need it.” “Whether your family was perfectly constructed or undeniably fractured, the people in your life did the best they could. You may be thinking to yourself, Well, that wasn’t enough! I’m telling you it was. Some parents are dealing with insecurities so great that all they can do is self-sabotage anything or anyone that comes close to them. You have to come to a place where you forgive your parents for not providing everything you needed.”  “As a match needs friction to produce a flame, the challenges you’ve faced are the friction you need to produce a light that shines for the world to see.”  “When you have encounters with true friends, you feel both humbled and empowered to do what’s right. I know from experience, though that what we need is not always what we desire.”  “Loyalty based on your position is dangerous because the one constant promise of life is change…The best type of loyalty comes from a friend who is loyal to who you are.”  “Unforgiveness will transform you from a victim to a villain.” “Hurt people hurt people…our own pain blinds us from seeing others’ pain.”  “People who do bad things are not always evil; often they are broken.”  “Closure is never about another person. It is reconciliation with one’s self” (and I would add, “and with God”).  “This is who I am. This is where I’ve come from. I am evidence that broken crayons still color and there is still life inside of you.”  “After dropping fifteen pounds the first moth, it became clear that not only was I capable of losing weight, but I was also capable of taking control of my normal and creating something better.”  “Your life is the road map that will help other people avoid detours that delay on their road to manifesting a destiny greater than those moments that have ailed them. Don’t throw it away because you don’t like the marks that nave been made. Fold it neatly, tuck it away in your heart, and preserve its beauty because someone is going to need evidence that even lost people find their way home.”  “From the depths of your sorrow, God wants to manifest blessings that far outweigh any hurt you’ve experienced.”  “Regret robs you of the possibilities that exist in the present. You don’t get do overs in life because you don’t need them. You needed to mess up. You had to make those mistakes. Your heart had to be broken. You needed to lose your way.”  “Our greatest responsibility and challenge in the quest for higher thinking is daring to find light in our darkest situations.”  “When you begin to truly expect and trust the love of God, it significantly changes your paradigm. I want for you to live in a palace of expectations.” “I pray that this book reminds you in spite of what you’ve gone through that you are still lighter than darkness.”  “The first thing to understand about purpose is that it will always be rooted in service toward the betterment of humanity…Your purpose is the answer to a problem that plagues our world.”  “You must be willing to let go of the dream you have for your life so that He can give you His plans.”  “It is the mystery of your potential that makes it clear God’s thought are higher than ours.”  “God never takes away anything from us that He doesn’t return with interest.”  “We foolishly believe that the best way to safeguard our heart is to avoid setting high expectations. You cannot avoid disappointment by becoming comfortable with low expectations.”  “People who have been hurt cheat other people out of the sense of security that stabilizes a relationship.”  “The only way our love reaches perfection is through handing our heart over to God and asking Him to show us our fears. Don’t give another person permission to hold your heart unless you know their hands belong to God.”  “You should never enter into a relationship with someone you would not want to become.”  “I realized that my tomorrow held more promise than my past held pain.” “You’ll feel like an outcast, but it’s okay. Great people are never fully understood, just admired.”  “Find Him in everything you do. May every word out of your mouth be a reflection of Him. That’s how you will become a light that the world cannot diffuse. When your light burns for Him the world will have to take notice.”  “I’ve discovered that growth requires a discipline to do what most cannot because they are unwilling to risk discomfort. We stay in relationship that damage us, remain in positions that stifle us, and maintain mentalities that don’t progress us. I wanted to break the strongholds that exist when we experience negativity. And to challenge women to see the good that’s come from the most difficult experiences…We must each commit to constantly live life searching for the strength to face the vulnerabilities that make us uncomfortable to become unstoppable The only thing standing in your way right now is you.”Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

*I am editorializing here

A Grownup’s Garden of Verses

My father was an English professor (who named his firstborn son “Robert Louis”), so I grew up knowing and loving Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses and read them  faithfully to my own children when they were tots. Stevenson’s poems were full of fun and bits of wisdom, such as:

“A CHILD should always say what’s true
And speak when he is spoken to,
And behave mannerly at table;
At least as far as he is able.”
(Praise God for the mercy implied in that last line.)

Today, in the spirit of Robert Louis Stevenson, I’d like to share a garden of thoughts and photos for adults, because at the CMDA (Christian Medical and Dental  Association) National Convention last week I heard many memorable ideas, and during that same week Alan and I visited the Biltmore Estate, where their spring gardens were bursting with beauty. Here are just a few gleanings from both experiences. You may have heard some of the quotations before, but I’m pretty sure the flower photos will be unique, unless you were just at the Biltmore last week!  🙂  “If you took all the matter but removed the space and energy from the 7+ billion people in the world, they could fit in a sugar cube.” (Dr. Richard A. Swenson) “The essence of reality is non-material.” (Dr. Richard A. Swenson) Among other things, he told us to think about these invisibles: Time, mathematics, gravity, sound, dark matter, dark energy, magnetism, love, joy, peace, grace, character, consciousness, spirit, soul, salvation, prayer, repentance, righteousness, faith, hope, God. (Consider 2 Corinthians 4:18, “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.“)

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.” (C.S. Lewis) “We are spiritual beings having a physical experience.” (Dallas Willard) “Joy is at God’s right hand. Whose hand are you holding?” (Ellie Lafaro) “No wonder obedience has ‘die’ in the middle.” (Dr. John Patrick) “Heresy is a good thing in the wrong place. Truth must trump loyalty.
Teach your children the hierarchy of virtues.” (Dr. John Patrick) “When you forgive, you set a prisoner free…and that prisoner is yourself!” (Ellie Lafaro, whose husband, Frank, is the CEO of Prison Fellowship International) “We can’t be sinless, but we can sin less.” (Dr. Gene Rudd) “Sometimes submission is learning when to duck so God can hit your husband!” (Ellie Lafaro) “Aim at Heaven, and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’:
aim at Earth and you will get neither.” (C.S. Lewis) “Yes, there is a GPS for heaven: “God’s Perfect Son!”
(someone shared this with Ellie Lafaro) “God wants us to give him our treasures and our trash.” (Rev. Bert Jones) “There’s no U-haul behind a hearse.” (Ellie Lafaro)  “Don’t settle for being informed rather than transformed.” (Rev. Bert Jones) “Fail to plan, and you can plan to fail.” (Ellie Lafaro) “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God,
who is sending a love letter to the world.” (Mother Teresa)  One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after;
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple
” (Psalm 27:4).

(All but the first two photos were taken at the Biltmore Estate near Ashville, North Carolina last week.)

Ever Looking for a Quiet Place for a Retreat? Consider “The Cove!”

Have you ever had a twinge of envy that monks can live in solitude and enjoy a lifetime immersed in prayer and meditation? Twenty years ago, Alan and I had a friend who spent one week every year at a monastery down in Kentucky, and that seemed wonderfully appealing, although it never seemed practical with a brood of children to tend. However, a quiet retreat space struck us as almost utopian in appeal, so you can imagine our amazement and joy when we discovered just such a retreat opportunity in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. We were on our way “home” (to our conference site) after visiting the Biltmore Estate, when we just happened to notice a sign for Billy Graham’s “The Cove.” Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew there was a Billy Graham Library
and thought there might be some sort of museum related named The Cove, so I asked Alan if we could at least see how far it would be from the main road. As a matter of fact, if you get off I-40 at Exit 55 and turn right, it’s right there! Wow! We were totally enthralled! Tickets to the Biltmore are $65. At The Cove, we just drove in and were treated to a royal tour of their chapel… for free! Kindly volunteers explained the mission and work of Billy Graham, and introduced us to a small but impressive collection of photos concerning his lifetime ministry. Alan and I both became Christians (along with millions of others) through the ministry of Billy Graham, so it was especially meaningful to see photos from his first and last crusades. (Our son Jonathan attended his last ministry in NYC back in 2005.)A collage of photos also gave us a small, sweet window into Billy’s family life. Afterward, we were offered time to enjoy the Chatlos Memorial Chapel,
where people are welcome to play the piano or organ, sit on the chairs, or worship God standing at their 400-year-0ld English pulpit!Everyone who comes is also free to visit their prayer room, or pray while wandering through Ruth Graham’s Prayer Garden. And, people are invited to stay as long as they please. Before leaving, volunteers share the gospel (John 3:16) via a gorgeous painting
and give visitors the opportunity to write out prayer requests, which are gathered and will be prayed over at least 5 times. Our guide also prayed for us before we left. Praise God!

I don’t know if unbelievers might find this uncomfortable, but we absolutely loved the way everything was presented and didn’t find anyone intrusive or the atmosphere pressured at all.

The whole experience was one of kindness, openness,
and a warm invitation for visitors to stop and rest awhile, enjoying the presence of God, which is almost palpable there.

Before we left, we also learned that there are on-going opportunities throughout the year for personal retreats, spiritual enrichment sessions with some of America’s finest theologians, and concerts by Christian musicians. Their 1,200 acre campus also includes a youth camp and other opportunities as well as their lovely Bible conference center. Did you know? I didn’t! Would you like to go sometime? I would love to! Maybe we’ll see you there.  🙂(For more information, visit TheCove.org or call 1-800-950-2092. You might accuse me of advertising, and I guess I am, but it’s because I’d never even heard of The Cove and feel like it’s the kind of place where your soul and spirit will be truly nurtured at a charitable price! If you’re really broke, they even offer applications for scholarships.)

(I took all the photos at The Cove on May 4, 2017.)