Willow, Weep for Me?

I will weep for you!
How is it that simple winds
Can break a huge tree?

Although weeping willows grow quickly to great heights and are often prized by romantics (like me) for their long, gracefully arching branches and lacey leaves, they are relatively short-lived (about 50 years). They have vast root systems that suck up huge amounts of water, and in the winter, the water can freeze, causing the branches to become rigid and brittle. So, despite their beauty and size, weeping willows are prone to ice damage, and even a stiff spring wind can cause a great fall, such as happened recently to one of the lovely willows along our lane.

In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul describes the healthy way for a church to grow. Have you noticed that some churches grow at amazingly rapid rates? They may be drinking in a lot of spiritual water (the Word, Ephesians 5:26) and even have sturdy root systems (rooted and grounded in love, Ephesians 3:17), but if they don’t recognize and utilize the full compliment of their church’s gifts (as given by God to each member), they are likely to become rigid and brittle over time (which happens in churches led by only one man) and very susceptible to “every wind of doctrine” that blows. The results can be devastating, just like weeping willow trees: Individual branches break off easily, and sometimes even huge limbs can come crashing down in a wind storm, not only killing a large part of the tree, but exposing the rest of the tree to disease and eventual death.

If you are a part of the leadership at your church, are you making sure to use all the spiritually gifted members of your congregation? Many minds and hearts working together will protect you from doctrinal error and strengthen your church family. If you are an inactive member of your congregation, do you know what your spiritual gift is? Will you offer to use your gift to help your church be healthy and grow stronger?

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16, ESV).

Magnolia Memo

Before leaves unfurl,
Among the barren branches
Magnolias blossom.

Among the earliest trees to flower are the magnolias, whose extravagant magenta blossoms always take my breath away and leave me with a sense of joy. I would love to be like a magnolia—blossoming in bright beauty as a harbinger of better things to come, even when the world around us seems diseased and decaying.

For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.24 For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?25 But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.27 And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Romans 8:22-29)

Pussy Willows Stalking Spring

Soft as kitten paws,
Silent as a crouching cat,
Pussy willow stalks.

We live close to Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, which is fast becoming a world-class venue for botanical garden lovers. Every week or two, we take a stroll through the gardens, and although there were no flowers blooming as yet on our last visit, we found a bank of pussy willows glowing in the late afternoon sunshine. Don’t you love the signs of new life emerging after the long, dark winter?

Truth shall spring out of the earth;
and righteousness shall look down from heaven” (Psalm 85:11).

Lost and Found

We mourn our losses
But find sweet consolation
In joyous rebirth.

My brother Rob, who lives in California, sent ’round this beautiful photo to cheer the hearts of his sibs who live in more northern climes. It definitely consoled me with the thought that spring is on its way, and the drab, brown grasses splotched with fallen leaves outside my window will soon give way to new life! How glad I am that death gives way to life when the sun arises!

But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise
with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth . . .” (Malachi 4:2).

Atlanta: Immersed in America’s Largest Aquarium

If  you ever get to Atlanta, be sure to make time to visit the Georgia Aquarium. This fantastic aquarium houses 100,000+ animals representing 700 species of fish and sea creatures in 10 million gallons of  sea water! It’s is the only place outside Asia where you can observe whale sharks, and one of only four sites in the world to display giant South African Manta rays. The Manta rays at the aquarium have wingspans of up to 13 feet, but the world’s largest have wingspans of up to 30 feet!          They are magnificent creatures and look like they’re flying in slow motion as they glide through the water. The  Georgia Aquarium is also home to several beluga whales, who are quite friendly with some of the staff and are happy to do tricks for applause! There are seven galleries and exhibits, each featuring creatures that thrive in particular environments. The largest exhibit, “Ocean Voyager,” contains 6.3 million gallons of water and several thousand fish. It is the largest indoor aquatic habitat in the world. It also has a 100-foot underwater tunnel and one of the world’s largest viewing windows. Other galleries include the “Suntrust Pier 22” where you can enjoy California Sea Lions splashing about . . . the “Cold Water Quest” for a look at African penguins  . . . “River Scout” for watching the antics of river otters, and “Tropical Diver” where you can experience an intimate look at shrimp and other sea creatures that live deep down under the sea! There are several “show times” worth catching too: feeding sea lions, talking to the beluga whales, and probably most thrilling of all—Dolphin Celebration. No photos are allowed during the dolphin show, so relax and put away your camera. Also, know that the first 10 rows routinely get drenched by the dolphins intentionally splashing you for fun, so if you don’t relish a good soaking, head for the 10th row or higher ASAP, which should be about 20 minutes before the show begins to secure a good seat. We visited just a few weeks ago while Alan was at a conference in Atlanta, and even though the aquarium is amazing as is, they’re in the midst of a $100 million dollar renovation, hopefully to be completed in the fall of 2020. I couldn’t help but think about the seemingly endless varieties of animals that God has created—the seas teeming with fish, and every little stream filled with turtles and other forms of life. No matter how hard we try, and although what men have accomplished is impressive, we can’t begin to contain or even identify all the forms of life on our planet. Did you know that our earth contains something like 326 million trillion gallons of water and another 3,100 cubic miles of water vapor in our atmosphere? I can’t even wrap my brain around just how big our “aquarium” is! No matter how hard we try, humans have never been able to create a single living animal! Only God can do that. I’ve been meditating on Psalm 8 lately, and it starts out by praising our Creator God, the LORD, because He can do what we cannot! His power is unfathomable. He has “set His glory above the heavens.” Mid-song, the psalmist points out that God has created man and crowned him with glory over all the earth, giving him the privilege and responsibility for caring for all of God’s earthly creation.     At the end of the Psalm 8, David praises God for his excellence. He reigns over heaven and earth, and his glory is so far above man’s that we can’t begin to contain or even imagine it! What a mighty God we serve! O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens.Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8)

What a Mighty God We Serve
(Originally an African folk song,
but more recently sung by Hezekiah Walker who added to the lyrics)

“What a mighty God we serve
what a mighty god we serve
Angels bow before Him
Heaven and earth adore Him
What a mighty God we serve.

He holds the winds in His hand
And He is the great I am
He is the bright and morning star
And without Him I would fall

Jehovah Jireh, my provider
Jehovah Shalom, my peace
Jehovah Tsidkenu, my righteousness
What a mighty God we serve.”

Did You See the Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse?

Last night there was a very special lunar event! Did you get to see it? January’s full moon is always called the “wolf” moon. (I’ve heard it was so-named by American Indians because that’s when the wolves howled most fiercely outside their villages 😦 ).  Last night there was also a “super” moon, which means the moon was full while it was at its closest point to the earth in its rotation, making it look especially large and luminous. Every year we get two to five supermoons, and this year there are three: the one last night, one on Feb. 19 (which will be the closest and largest full supermoon of the year), and one on March 21.  A “blood” moon refers to the color the moon appears to be during a total lunar eclipse. Instead of disappearing altogether, there is still some light that reaches it from the sun, although the rays are refracted in such a way that blue light is filtered out, leaving the sunset glow of red light. A super blood moon is a rare occurrence with gaps between six months and three years. Last night was the only  super blood moon in 2019, and there won’t be another one like it visible in North America until May 26, 2021. Lunar eclipses occur during a full moon, when the sun and moon are perfectly aligned on opposite sides of the Earth so that the moon falls completely under Earth’s shadow. Last night’s eclipse lasted just 72 minutes, between 11:41 EST (January 20) and 12:53 EST (January 21, the wee hours of this morning).  The moon appears red only during the eclipse. Once the moon enters Earth’s shadow, it will turn red throughout the full eclipse.  But, once the moon begins to lose its red hue, you know the full eclipse is over.My photos of the blood moon and the lunar eclipse were not taken last night, however! They were taken in Italy last July while I was visiting my kids who lived there. Michael and Grace were all excited about the special event, and we were perched in place, watching so we wouldn’t miss this opportunity! We knew the eclipse wouldn’t be visible anywhere in America that night, which made it all the more exotic and unusual! Last night, Alan and I admired the full moon rising on our way home from visiting with friends, but we were oblivious of the momentous event about to occur just a couple of hours later. When we got home, we watched our son, Joel, out skating in the moonlight and thought about what a beautiful evening it was, but we fell right to sleep without any portend of “things to come!”I wonder, friend, as you look up at the night sky, do you know some day a blood moon will portend the Lord’s return to  Earth? For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Are  you prepared for that day? Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 25:6-13).

But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” Matthew 24:37-44).

And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come:21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:19-21).

(Photo Credits: Best photo of the blood moon [#3 in order] was taken by NASA. I took #2. photo at a showing in our local planetarium and the rest on July 27, 2018 near Costozza, Italy.)

Relaxing in the Blue Lagoon

Iceland’s Blue Lagoon is the world’s largest man-made geothermal mineral bath and listed in National Geographic as one of the world’s Twenty-Five Wonders.Many people travel to Iceland in January in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights, but we have good friends who went last January and didn’t see a single streak of midnight light, so Alan and I were happy to go in August, when the  thermostat doesn’t dip so low and the daylight hours are luxuriously long.  Iceland in August is unforgettable, and among the dozens of delights we enjoyed, savoring a day lulling in the legendary Blue Lagoon was right up there at the top. The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most visited attractions, and people come from all over the world to enjoy the ambience and healing waters.                                                    How does it work? Well, the lagoon is filled with sea water channeled from over a mile underground, past a volcanic lava flow that super-heats it to a searing 464°F. The water is used to generate power at the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power station and then cooled to 100°F. before being pumped into the lagoon.  The Blue Lagoon is built into a black basaltic lava field that’s thought to be 800 years old and looks natural (for a moonscape) as well as ethereal.  The pools contain 9 million liters of water, which are circulated through the baths and then discarded, completely renewing the lagoon every 40 hours.  The result is an enormous “spa” with luxuriously warm waters rich with algae and mineral deposits like sulfur and silica (which gives the water it’s beautiful, milky-blue color).  If you’re squeamish about modesty (like I am), you can relax. The changing rooms are divided by gender, and everybody wears a bathing suit.  Each person is given a fluffy, white, warm bathrobe (hanging on left) for wearing before and after entering the pool, which was comforting even in August!      Complimentary silica-mud is distributed if you want to try a face mask,         and refreshments are available at their swim up bar in the pool.  There’s also a fresh-water drinking fountain in the pool if you feel dehydrated. There are walkways around the lagoon, although lava is sharp, so you’d need shoes and warm wraps before attempting a hike. Now, perhaps some of you who find this post are researching Iceland and are considering a visit to the Blue Lagoon. I hope you go and love it! However, there may be others who won’t. Either way, I’d like to share that there is a place even more restful and wonderful than the Blue Lagoon, and that’s  the spiritual rest that Jesus offers: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).  That doesn’t mean we never work anymore, but that does mean that we don’t “work” in order to obtain our salvation! Jesus has provided for us through his death on the cross, so we can stop trying to be “perfect.” Mud baths are unnecessary; we can be washed clean through His cleansing power!Instead of trying to “work” our way to heaven, we need to completely relax. Jesus died for us. He is our healing water, and He will hold us up. He provides clean, white robes for us! He gives us the pure water of life to drink. All we have to do is believe: Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:28-29).There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.11 Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest” (Hebrews 4:9-11).

 

(Photo Credits: Two of the photos I used appear on multiple sites, and I couldn’t trace it back to the original photographer to ask permission. However, I’m going to link them back to the most likely options I found:

Photo #1: https://wakeupreykjavik.com/iceland-in-january/

Photo # 3: https://www.travelandleisure.com/flight-deals/cheap-flights-icelandair-northern-lights

The rest are mine, taken on our trip last August.)