Beautiful Birthday Week

This year, something unique happened for my birthday! My two older brothers came from California and New York City to help me celebrate. We had SO MUCH FUN! Included were a host of special opportunities, and right at the top was a mini-reunion with our sister over in the east side of the state!

Other highlights included a “day at the farm” with our niece’s family,

and a day with my daughter and her family,
including a tour of my son-in-law’s studio,

where he heads up the videography department at their church.

Rebecca Louise Law’s The Womb Exhibit at Meijer Garden

Back in GR, we took a trip to Meijer Garden— always captivating!

We visited Alan’s office and toured the campus
of Pine Rest Christian Hospital, where Alan works.

We took a trip to Robinettes for cider and donuts! (What would fall in Michigan be without a cider mill and donuts?). We also took a mini tour of the publishing house where our youngest son works as an editor.

One night, we went to Grand Haven for dinner
and a walk along the pier at sunset.

However, we didn’t know that evening was the night of the lighting ceremony for the new catwalk (after four years of construction). The place was jammed with well wishers. We enjoyed marching band music, a flyover, and fireworks,

but the end of the pier was blocked off, so we didn’t get in our quiet stroll.

Nevertheless, it was a very memorable evening
on an amazingly balmy night for autumn!

We toured Exalta, where my son Daniel is the dental director.

We also saw Daniel and Brianna’s new home,
with its wonderful backyard where the children can play!

The grand finale was my birthday party, complete with great big balloons

and a nerf gun war (sponsored by four-year-old grandson, Sammy).

Needless to say, it was the perfect way to celebrate my birthday! I’m just a little groggy and tired this week, but I wouldn’t have traded it for a trip to some exotic island! Thank you, Lord, for the great privilege and joy of family!!

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Until Forever

“Live Until You Die!”

That’s the message of this incredibly inspiring true love story called Until Forever (2016 version), which is based on the lives of Michael and Michelle Boyum and their enduring love as teenagers and young adults dealing with Michael’s diagnosis of leukemia.

If I didn’t know someone with a similarly buoyant spirit, it would be hard to imagine anybody as sweet, faith-filled, and steady as this young man, but in reality, I know Tom F., who has also been through the wringer with leukemia and is every bit as kind and outreaching, so I know a few of these treasures exist!

Like my friend Tom, Michael always had the needs of others at the forefront of his thinking, and even during his hospital stays, he was busy reaching out to others with encouragement and the love of Jesus!

Jamie Anderson as Matt Boyum

Until Forever doesn’t shy away from the painful realities of how a cancer diagnosis effects everyone who loves the patient. In Michael’s case, his younger brother was severely effected,

Joel Jacobsen as Ben

as were many friends from his church family. (I loved the inclusion of this sweet young man!)

Madison Lawlor as Michelle Larson

Equally miraculous to Michael’s radiant spirit was the response of Michael’s girlfriend, Michelle, who refused to give up and stood by his side despite all the pain, insecurities, and sufferings that Michael endured. (Tom’s wife, Lynnie, is actually just as beautiful and wonderful as Michelle is, as depicted in the movie, so I have no trouble believing such devotion and faith exist!)

Here is a photo of the “real” Michael and Michelle (shown in the final credits of the movie). I truly believe only God can produce a love like theirs!

Well, I don’t want to ruin the story by telling you everything, but it’s one of the most moving movies I’ve seen in a long time, full of faith in the midst of fear

and triumph in the midst of tragedy.

If you are struggling with fear and tragedy, please take the time to watch this movie! It is possible to experience hope and peace in the midst of any illness.

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5, ESV).

unPlanned

Two days ago I had the pleasure of an unplanned visit with the gaffer for the newly released movie, Unplanned. (John is my son Dan’s brother-in-law.) Have you seen it?

It’s the gripping true story of the experience of Abby Johnson, who personally had two abortions and then became an activist for Planned Parenthood . . . until she actually witnessed an abortion. Until. What about you? Do you have any opinion about whether or not abortion is a reasonably good option for ending an unwanted pregnancy? If you think abortion might be the best and easiest option, please PLEASE watch Unplanned.

It’s rated R, probably for blood visuals related to some abortion problems, but I think it is valuable for anyone who is exposed to sexual contact . . . or for sure by high school age. Does it make sense that any girl—who is under 18 can have sex, get pregnant, and have an abortion without parental consent—should be restricted from seeing a movie that discusses the issues surrounding abortion? I’d say “NO!”

I grew up in a liberal home and didn’t blink an eye at over the issue. I figured that if anybody ever raped me, I’d have an abortion. However, my husband, Alan (who was usually more liberal than I was on “political issues”), said he thought it was wrong and that if I was ever raped and impregnated, he would prefer that I kept the baby rather than getting an abortion. I was totally shocked, but it also made me rethink my position. During medical school, as part of his training, Alan observed an abortion. His response was similar to that of Abby Johnson’s. He was horrified and sickened. He never wanted to be witness to an abortion again, and he felt that he had watched the undeniable killing of a helpless infant that resisted with all its tiny being having its life snuffed out.

After Alan began practice, he discovered that he had patients who even into their eighties were still haunted by their experience of having aborted a baby early in life. The regret and shame seemed never ending. He has been a strong proponent for being pro-life ever since, and so am I.

But, what about the millions of women who have aborted babies? Is there no relief for them from having an aching heart and a bad conscience?

Yes! There is no sin outside the grace of God, nor are any of us without sin, we just sin in different ways. In fact, the Bible is clear that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That’s why Jesus died: to provide a way to be forgiven for our sins: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17, ESV).

If you have had an abortion, are considering having an abortion, or know someone who is struggling with abortion issues, please consider watching Unplanned. It will make you sad, but it also offers hope and healing! God is here, and He loves us!

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV). “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21 ESV).

This Fall, Let’s Be Real But Stay Positive

As the new fall semester begins, I wonder if it’s time to rethink our social network strategy. I wonder if we’re being a bit jaundiced to complain about Face Book and Instagram (Twitter, etc—fill in the many blanks here) being platforms for attempting to make our friends think we’re perfect. Really? Sure, we see photos of holidays and happy anniversaries and trips and amazing birthday cakes (and huge donuts 🙂 ), but we also hear about tragic losses, upcoming surgeries, and requests for prayer support during difficult challenges. There may be a few of our friends who appear to be budding Martha Stewarts (for better or worse); some may need a little affirmation that they’re doing well, but isn’t that okay . . . and what friends are for? Can we take joy in the happiness of others and find pleasure in the good things of life they enjoy and want to share with us without feeling bad about our own lives? I hope so!

What about the “bad” stuff that gets shared? The emotional drama you wish they’d share with their BFFs only? The negative side of lives and loves? I’ve heard people complain that Face Book is used to denigrate others, relieve volcanic social pressure, go on the rampage about politics, or otherwise splatter venom on innocent bystanders.

Hollyhocks on Mackinac Island, Michigan

What’s the purpose of social media? How do we manage our online networks and resources without getting so frustrated we just quit? Here are a handful of suggestions to help keep our attitudes positive and compassionate while still being open and honest about our lives:

Rose of Sharon

*Be prayerful as we read, asking God to bless each person and meet their needs. “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Romans 12:9).

*Pray about what to share with others, and share for the sake of joyfully celebrating life together as well as sharing our burdens. Let’s take responsibility for thoughtful honesty and sincerity. “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Philippians 2:2-4).

Female Baltimore Orioles

*Don’t compare ourselves with others and reject any temptation to envy. No matter how good life is for someone, we can know they have their share of heartaches and pain too. “Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:26).

*Reserve our deepest emotional and spiritual pains for our closest friends, and let’s resist sharing these on public media. Once something is written, it can never be completely erased from the memory of those who read it. “Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee” (Proverbs 2:11).

Juvenile Red-winged Blackbird

*Don’t depend on the response of others for our sense of worth. Each of us is loved by God more than we will ever comprehend! He is our maker, our redeemer, our savior, our anchor, and the only “One to watch!” in the sense of needing approval. Let’s keep God as the “apple of our eyes,” the focus of our love, the sunshine that makes our spirits bright! It is only as we center our lives in Him that we will be truly centered and stable. “For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light” (Psalm 36:9).

*As a young person, I heard that George Washington was taught to “Be kind to all, be friends with few, be intimate with one.” I cannot find the origin of this quote, but I think it’s excellent advice both at home and online! “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness” (Proverbs 31:26).

Honey bee collecting pollen from a budding Rose of Sharon

*Here is another quote by Ben Franklin that I think has merit in guiding social discourse, even though it’s over two centuries old (and I’m not sure how he defines “friend,” but it seems too narrow to be a friend to only one): “Be civil to all; sociable to many; familiar with few; friend to one; enemy to none” (Benjamin Franklin). “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:12-13).

Hope this helps! I am now going to have to make sure I practice what I preach, giving up any sense of being disappointed by who doesn’t respond to my Face Book or blog entries, remembering that each of my friends has many, many friends to keep up with and lots they want to share too! Blessings~

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (46): Be Merciful

“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice” (Abraham Lincoln). Given that “Honest Abe” Lincoln was noted for truthfulness and integrity, that’s a pretty strong commendation for the value of mercy, and his assessment wasn’t unprecedented. In the Old Testament, we’re taught that God himself, the supreme judge over all the earth, is merciful (1), and that He desires us to be merciful (2).

So, what is mercy, how does it square with justice and the law, and why should we be merciful? “Mercy” comes from Anglo-French “merci” (which we think of as “thank you”) and Latin “merc” (“merchandize”) meaning “price paid; wages.” To show mercy is to extend forgiveness and grace to someone who has wronged us when it is within our power and right to punish them for misconduct, or more generically, it is “the compassionate treatment of those in distress” (Merriam Webster).

I doubt there’s anyone who would denounce mercy as “bad,” but strict moralists often cannot square mercy with justice. Moral radicals usually demand justice without mercy for those who fail to keep the law perfectly (be it the Ten Commandments, Shiraiah Law, or the requirements of any religious or governmental system). It is the oppressive “keep our laws or die” philosophy that makes life unbearably difficult for many people around the world.

Divine Mercy

One of the unique beauties of Christianity is the fact that our God is a God of great mercy and compassion (see verses listed below), but He also completely satisfies the requirement of justice. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, so that God can be both just and merciful. When we come before the judgment seat of Christ, we can say “Mercy! Thank you! The price for my sins has been paid by Jesus Christ!”

Sound too good to be true? It’s not! It’s the transcendent plan of our almighty, all loving God who has made a way for each of us to receive mercy and grace from his hand rather than the punishment we deserve for failing to keep His perfect laws!

Why should we show mercy to others who hurt and offend us? I’m not sure on what basis unbelievers choose to be merciful, but for me, it’s because I love God and want to please him . . . to be like him . . . to keep his commandments and extend the goodness and mercy I’ve received from him to others.

Have you experienced God’s mercy? Doesn’t it make you want to share his compassion and love with those around you?

Below are ten of my favorite verses on mercy from the Bible gleaned from hundreds. May our meditations be sweet! “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” Psalm 86:5

The Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him” (2 Chronicles 30:9).

Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy” (Psalm 33:18).

All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Psalm 25:10).

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23:6).

For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:5).

For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah” (Psalm 67:1).

Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart” ( Proverbs 3:3).

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Text for this meditation: Luke 6:35-36, “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.

Notes:
(1) “Thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Nehemiah 9:17).
(2) “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).

Thoughts on Trying to Comfort Those Who Grieve

Last weekend we had the joy of a visit from Bruce, who was one of Alan’s closest friends during residency days and with whom Alan shared his first practice in Ann Arbor. Bruce married in his thirties, so we knew him as a single man, watched him fall in love, and rejoiced in his marriage. Bruce and his wife were best of friends! She was his greatest fan, and they were a “match made in heaven.” All that sweetness came to a bitter end five years ago when Lisa died of stage IV colon cancer.

There are no words to comfort someone who is grieving the loss of someone they love deeply. No words will ameliorate the pain, but there are plenty of words that can feel like sharp knives piercing an already wounded heart.

Alan and Kathi at Meijer Garden

Because Alan lost both his parents in a tragic event when he was only twenty-nine, and because he is a geriatrician who has cared for many dying patients over the past forty years, I used to stay tucked under his wing when we attended funerals, wanting to be present but feeling totally helpless as far as having any comforting words to offer, knowing that what I would imagine might comfort me could cause stinging pain to my friend.

Now that Alan and I are nearing seventy, and more and more of our friends are experiencing life-threatening illnesses, I’ve been trying to learn more about how to comfort those who are experiencing great loss. In that quest, I listened to an audio book called Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love: Daily Meditations to Help You Through the Grieving Process, by Raymond R. Mitsch and Lynn Brookside.

There are a plethora of books on grief recovery, and this particular one wasn’t my all-time favorite, but there are several ideas I want to pass on. It also reminded me that if you are grieving, or if you love someone who is grieving, there are many resources out there, probably most of which will offer at least some helpful insights. If you’re grieving, consider reading what others have experienced on their journeys of sorrow. For many, there’s truth in the old adage that “misery loves company.” (However, Bruce tells me that what really soothed him was the still, small voice, not the whirlwind of other voices.) If you enjoy writing, consider starting a journal about your personal pilgrimage. Writing can be one of the most therapeutic exercises on earth!

So, here are my favorite takeaways from Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love (along with some photos from Meijer Garden, where Alan and I took Bruce for a quiet stroll after church last Sunday afternoon).

Zen Garden at Meijer Garden in Grand Rapids, MI

“‘I feel your pain.’ Those four words say it all. You don’t have to have answers, just be present.” Personally, I’m not sure if “I feel your pain” is adequate, since I usually feel like their pain is often beyond my comprehension, since I haven’t lost a spouse or child yet. Nevertheless, Bruce (and others) confirm that saying nothing is better than saying anything trivial, but being present with the person is crucially helpful. Listening with compassion and without any criticism or shock over whatever they might express is also a healing balm. Their wounds are raw and sometimes ugly. “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Don’t try to play the Holy Spirit and “cure” them. Pray for the Holy Spirit to comfort and cure them.

Hydrangeas in sunshine at Meijer Garden

“Don’t stare constantly at either the sun or death.” If you’re grieving loss, don’t allow yourself to spend all your waking hours experiencing pain, or your soul will become as blind as someone who stares constantly into the sun. Instead, look into the face of God to find “safe” sunshine and beauty to relieve your aching heart. Ditto if you’re trying to encourage someone else. Don’t PREACH! Walk alongside your friend in some beautiful place where she/he will feel refreshed. “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” (Psalm 90:17).

“The seemingly little things you grieve are not little! The whole fabric of  your life has been rent!” I thought this was profound. The authors went on to say we need to allow ourselves to experience and process pain without trying to minimize or ignore it. Each person’s pain is unique and probably unbearable. “It will be alright,” or “Someday it will be better” doesn’t help present-tense and is like rubbing salt in the wound. Better to say nothing than try to smooth the mountain into a mole hill. It’s NOT!! (BTW, God can overcome our mountains: “The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills” (Song of Solomon 2:8).

“I thought it would be too hard to say goodbye until I refused to do so.” This point is good to process personally if you’re grieving, and I suppose there may be a time in which you can share the authors’ experiences (and both authors were writing from the wells of their own grief), but be careful on this one. Each person’s time to feel released from the intense sense of grieving out of loyalty (which follows grieving out of personal loss) is so unique that the grieving person may feel you (as the one who wants to comfort) are just pushing the person to heal so that you and she/he can both “get on with life.” My friend still wears his wedding ring after five years as a widower. That’s just fine! He’ll take it off when and if he’s ever ready to! Don’t push. Pray!! “Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant” (Psalm 119:76, and for the comfort of our loved ones).

“Suicide is a permanent end for a temporary problem” (the temporary problem being grief). I’ve never been suicidal, but I’ve known a number of people who have suicided, and I definitely think some people have a genetic pre-disposition for turning to this age-old solution to chronic pain. God wants us to turn to Him in our grief (and all our troubles). He does not want us to take matters into our own hands and “end it all.”

Think of the prodigal son. When he returned to his father, his father’s arms were open, and the prodigal found forgiveness and a whole new life opening up to him. I’m not saying we are “prodigals” when we grieve, but I am saying that God is there, whether or not we’ve stayed on the farm or run off to some far country. He is waiting for us to come back and rest under the covert of his wings. He loves us. As long as He wants us on earth, He has good reasons for our being here, even if we don’t see them or understand them. “He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto God the Lord belong the issues from death” (Psalm 68:20).

Listening to History at Meijer Sculpture Park

Another verse to consider for yourself (but would probably not be good to offer someone else who is grieving) is Job 13:15, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.” We’re responsible for living with integrity and faith; God is responsible for choosing when we are born and when we die. He is also available to help us every day from birth to death and offers us eternal life through Jesus Christ, his Son, which is—to me—the ultimate comfort in the death of loved ones who have trusted in Jesus as their Lord and Savior: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Plaque in the Faith Reflective Garden. Meijer Gardens, Michigan

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Do your loved ones know God and Jesus Christ? Do you?

Becoming The Best of Enemies

“Change is Worth Fighting For”—The Best of Enemies

Jesus talked a lot about loving our enemies, which includes praying for them and allowing good to overcome evil in our lives . . . and hopefully—eventually—in their lives as well. One beautiful example of this is played out in the movie, The Best of Enemies. I absolutely LOVE this story and hope you all take the time to watch it!

The Best of Enemies is a new release (2019) based on the true story of what happened when a school for African American children burned down in Durham, North Carolina, back in 1971.

It’s a PG-13 (which I think it very appropriate), and the language is rough . . . but so was the community.

The confrontation was over integration.

Taraji P. Henson in the role of Ann Atwater

The contestants were Ann Atwater, who was a black civil rights activist,

Sam Rockwell portraying C.P. Ellis

and C. P Ellis, the president of the local Ku Klux Klan.

The venue was a 10-day “charrette,” where the leaders and team members on both sides of the issue were forced to work together to solve the problem through discussion and information gathering in the city.

The prize: Well, to integrate or not to integrate was the question, but the prize was much greater, as we learned from the movie!

If you’re looking for a movie with a happy ending where “love wins,” this is one of those rare and wonderful times when good really did overcome evil! This movie has won all sorts of awards and received twelve Emmy nominations. Even the real families who were involved were happy about the way it turned out, so that makes it a win-win, and if you watch it and find it increases your understanding, empathy, and love for both blacks and whites, then it will be a win-win-win for all of us!

But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:13-19).