Category Archives: Gardens

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.)

Stars of Spring

“Stars of Spring”

CrocusesDrawn through snow to sunWrapped in a mantle of leaves,Purple flowers bloom.

ForsythiaLemon drops of gold, Sunburst star-spangled blossoms,Harbingers of spring.


VioletsFragile, drooping headsWith leafy hearts extended,You lead me in praise.

DaffodilsDancing on the breeze,  Persevering through spring snows,Joyful in trials.

Hyacinths
Rainbowed breath of springYou fill my heart with perfume   Like God’s sweet Spirit. (Kathryn W. Armstrong, April 11, 2017) Some of the most beautiful poetry in the world is in the Bible’s Book of Psalms. Here’s one of my favorites, which speaks of spring:

Psalm 65

“Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion: and unto thee shall the vow be performed. O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come. Iniquities prevail against me: as for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away. Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple. By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation; who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea: Which by his strength setteth fast the mountains; being girded with power: Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people. They also that dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid at thy tokens: thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice. Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it. Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof. Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness. They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every side. The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.”

Tulip Time Festival: It’s All in the Timing…or Is It?

One of the many joys of living in this area is our almost annual trek to Holland’s Tulip Time Festival, which is usually the week before Mother’s Day.  This year it’s May 6-14, 2017.During the festival, Holland, Michigan, which is 30 miles south of Grand Rapids, is glowing with 6 million tulips, as well as a potpourri of other beautiful spring flowers. However, this year the weather has been unusually warm, and the tulips are almost all blooming right now, so we decided to visit last Sunday afternoon (which was April 23—two weeks before the festivities are to begin). The weather was perfect, and so were the gardens. The only down side is that there are vast fences around the flower beds at Windmill Island Gardens  to keep out the deer, who consider tasty tulips fine dining. It will be sad enough that the flowers will be past their prime for the festival, but if the caretakers were to take down the fences now (which they won’t), there would be nothing but leaves for the masters!  😦(Oh, but there would still be daffodils, because they’re poisonous.)Of course, there are all sorts of fun things to do at the festival!There’s a wonderful parade, a marathon, Dutch dancing, a carnival,
an arts and crafts fair, music and great food… So, the festival will still be worth visiting. However, if your first love (among such earthly loves) is spring flowers, I’d recommend going ASAP! The weather forecast is pretty bad, so you might have to consult your favorite weather station for some prognostication, but sooner will be better than later!

Festivals are fun, but they’re pretty insignificant compared to some of the weightier matters of life, like school and career choices, whom you’ll marry
(if you marry) and where to live. Are you facing a challenging decision? Timing is critical! However, it’s not always easy to figure out the correct timing. When it comes to festivals, you can consult the weather man and your friends, but when it comes to the big decisions of life, may I encourage you to consult the only One who knows you perfectly and who knows the future as well as He knows the past and present? God knows “all about it.” He knows all about everything, in fact, and He can give you the wisdom you need to make the right decision, if you’ll only ask.  Thus saith the Lord the maker thereof, the Lord that formed it, to establish it; the Lord is his name; Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (Jeremiah 33:2-3).

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).

Song of Solomon (227): Fish Eyes? Fishy Eyes?

Song of Solomon 7:4 “Thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim…” Although we have probably all been privileged at some point in our lives to enjoy an oriental fish pool and catch the glimmer of goldfish darting about in the clear, green waters, there is much in the imagery of this praise which the western mind would miss without studying the ancient city of Heshbon and the culture of the times.   Heshbon was located about fifty miles east of Jerusalem. It is mentioned thirty-seven times in Scripture and was a powerful city in ancient Palestine. In Numbers 21:25-30 we learn that Heshbon was originally a Moabite city but was conquered by Sihon, the king of the Amorites, who made it his capital. Later (Numbers 32:37) it became part of the inheritance of the tribe of Rueben, and although it eventually reverted back to Moabite rule (and both Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied of coming judgment because of its evil), during the reign of King Solomon it was part of the inheritance given to the Levites as a city of peaceful refuge for the families of the priests. It was a beautiful city, a powerful city, and a city of peace.   The name Heshbon means “he that hastens to understand or build.”1  Already we find rich ore for the mining! For the bride to have her eyes compared to the fishpools in Heshbon would have brought to the ancient eastern mind thoughts of beauty, power, peace, and a heart to understand and build. Oh, that in our eyes our Lord might see beautiful spirits…peaceful spirits, but spirits with a passion to eagerly pursue wisdom and growth!   Recent excavations of Heshbon (now in Jordan) have uncovered the remains of large reservoirs near the city. The word for “fishpools” is the Hebrew berekot, which does not refer to springs or fountains, “but the deep reservoirs which the springs supply. The sense here is one of still, deep calmness rather than the sparkle and shimmer of flowing springs”(2).   The translation “fish pools” followed the Latin Vulgate rendering piscinae, referring to pools for fish, but there is no actual intimation from the Hebrew text that the pools were so used (3). Fish pools were typically shallow, and the deep reservoirs near the gate of Bath-rabbim were more likely used for the city’s water supply, particularly in light of the name Bath-rabbim, which means literally “the daughter of multitudes.” Ah, and here is another resting spot for meditation!  How often the names in Scripture tell a story in themselves. The deep reservoirs supplied life-giving water for multitudes. The task of carrying water from the city well to the family dwelling place was one of the housekeeping responsibilities of the women and was normally assigned to daughters (if there were any) who were old enough and strong enough for such work. (For examples, Rachel, Rebekah, and the woman at the well in Sychar.)   So, the reservoirs supplied water for the “daughter(s) of multitudes…” and through them, the entire city. Anyone who came to the wells could drink. Everyone who came could drink. It didn’t matter if the person was a beautiful and virtuous young virgin like Rebekah or a five-time has been with no real family of her own like the woman Jesus redeemed by the well of Sychar… everyone who came was allowed to drink. Oh, to be a woman whose eyes are deep, peaceful, reservoirs of life-giving spirit, open in compassion to the poor and prepared to minister to the needs of all the daughters of this earth!

(1) Lockyer, Dr. Herbert. Love Is Better Than Wine. Harrison: New Leaf Press, 1981, p. 113.
(2) Carr, G. Lloyd. The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1984, p. 158.
(3) Patterson, Paige.  Song of Solomon. Chicago:  Moody, 1986, p. 105.