Category Archives: Seasonal Pictures

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).

What’s Under the Mantle of White?

img_7265It’s snowing and 8° here in Michigan this morning.snowy-lake The sky looks almost foggy,img_7263 and everything is wrapped in a mantle of white as luxurious as ermine fur! img_7262Don’t you love how snow softens lines and covers over the deadness and defects img_7273of our landscapes after the cold has killed off everything green? img_7272-2It occurs to me that it’s almost impossible to guess what’s under the soft, glistening mounds of white unless you know the landscape well.
img_7270For instance, wouldn’t it be impossible to know what’s under the white mounds of snow in the preceding photos grill-buried-under-snowunless you’re able to back up and see the bigger picture?  (Outdoor grill)snowy-stack-of-wood(Not a bed, but a stack of firewood!) img_8471Makes me think of God, who covers over our sins with his grace and makes us clean, not only on the outside but on the inside too! (Kayak on our dock.) overturned-row-boat Thank you, Father, for a new year and the chance to be renewed again!  picnic-table-covered-in-snowPurge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow
” (Psalm 51:7).  huge-snowy-doghouseWhoever covers an offense seeks love” (Proverbs 17:9).

When is it Time to Say Goodbye to Traditions?

creche     Have you taken down your Christmas tree and all your decorations yet? putting-away-christmas-ornamentsDo you do a good job of purging out old decorations that have lost their luster, christmas-card-children-drinking-cocoa-on-front-stepsor do you— like me—cling to every little, ratty decoration
because you cherish the associated memories?

christmas-card-children-looking-at-moonWe have (scratched) glass bulbs and birds that hung on my parents’ Christmas trees, and oodles of dilapidated designs created from popsicle sticks, ceramic figurines painted by clumsy little hands, and tattered felt decorations made in Sunday school classes and as home school projects over the years. green-christmas-tree-bulbThis year, Joel masterminded the Christmas tree decor, and I noticed that none of these beloved treasures merited even an honorable mention in his artistic arrangement. needles-from-a-christmas-treeI’m sure our world would be a more beautiful, neatly organized place if sentiment didn’t cloud our judgment. Or, what is the right word? Alter our judgement? Distract? Affect? Inform? Some traditions are good, right?creche-painted-by-childrenBut, what about the decorations that have been glued back together after curious grandchildren accidentally broke off the heads of the skaters or knocked over (and cracked) the wise men? When is it time to let go of the past to make way for the future?christmas-tree-skirt-and-needlesI’m pretty sure I am way over on the semtimental-to-a-fault side of the bell-shaped curve.thomas-kinkade-home-in-country-wallpaper-trim My Lant Henna (Aunt Helen) told me that her son arrived to visit one day with a stack of new towels for her house and replaced her entire stock. tinsel-for-christmasLast week, Alan pointed out that we need to do the same. Really? I hadn’t even noticed. What’s wrong with 20-year-old towels?? At any rate, you get the picture! watchnight-service-candleI think we all grapple with the same questions, and the answers will be different for each of us, but I am going to attempt to loosen my grip on clinging to the past in order to make room for the future this year…at least a little…and if you’ve been a nostalgic-to-a-fault, hopeless pack rat like me (spiritually and emotionally as well as physically)…I hope you’ll do the same!blur-of-red-and-green-lightsPut off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness… And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:22-24,30-32, ESV).

What’s On Top Of Your Pole?

snowy-michigan-gardenI’d been thinking a lot about those baboons sitting on top of the fence posts when I took a walk down our lane after the last big snow storm, and it occurred to me that I don’t have monkeys perched on my fence posts, I have snow! Lots of snow!snowy-swampOf course, I didn’t really place the snow on top of the posts, God did! Still, it made me think about the fact that—symbolically—we each have posts in our life. super-snowy-morning-in-michigan As we begin 2017, what’s on your post? What’s on the top of your pole?  Snow? Something that comes and goes with every gust of wind and change of weather?totem-pole-in-alaskaI’ve been examining my life and thinking about priorities…what I value and what I want as my highest priority…at the top of my pole. I don’t want it to be pleasure, or wealth, or even happiness or being loved by others (although those are all good things). I want God—the living, personal God who created the universe and everything in it, and yet who loves us with everlasting love—I want that most wonderful of all gods to be at the top of my pole. How about you?  old-fence-around-a-garden-in-winterAnd if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

(In case you hadn’t guessed, that totem pole isn’t at our home; it was taken when we were in Alaska years ago.)

A Tale of Christmas Shopping: Trying to Find the Perfect Gifts

christmas-tree-and-decorationsI hate shopping. Do you? It’s not that I’m a total Scrooge. I enjoy being able to gift people…if I know what they need or want, but I’ve never been endowed with the gift of giving. Inspirational visions from the Ghost of Christmas Presents for what might delight someone rarely brighten my brain, and successfully dreaming up great gifts in my concrete cranium seems as impossible as attempting to imagineer great plots for fiction stories…a non event waking or sleeping.   🙂  window-shoppingI believe it was my daughter-in-law Carlie who recently published on Face Book: “Am I my brother’s shopper?” (Uh…I think her husband is my son.)christmas-presents-under-christmas-treeNevertheless, ‘tis the season, and in our family the tradition is for each wannabe gift receiver (that’s all of us) to publish a list of wanted gift possibilities via our handy-dandy online Armstrong exchange accessed by a Christmasy password. a-light-dusting-of-amazon-packages-for-christmasSome kind-hearted kids even publish links to show the rest of us where to find said suggestions, so there’s always a light dusting of Amazon packages along with the light dustings of snow on our doorstep, as my son Aaron would say. And, as the days before Christmas draw nigh, there tend to be blizzards of both packages and snow. deep-snowsHowever, I’m a firm believer in buying locally if at all possible, and so I trudge through the drifting snow and freezing weather to every mall in America (or at least GR) looking for facsimiles thereof to delight my kids and soothe my civic conscience. To little avail! shopping-at-the-mallEver try finding some heavy-weight bookends these days? How about a Celebration Hymnal accompaniment book or a brown desk chair with an adjustment to raise the seat up to 25 inches? And that was just the tip of the iceberg! Kindly merchants sent me from store to store and mall to mall, suggesting other shops where I might find my particular treasures.slippery-winter-highway Grand Rapids is the second largest city in Michigan, and my theory was that somewhere in GR I could find the desired items. Wrong!o-christmas-treeHow is it that in the shopping center for a quarter of a million people, there are so few choices available? Sadly, I think it’s a vicious cycle: More and more of us find it easier to shop online, so even the best local stores can’t afford to stock anything besides the most commonly wanted items.christmas-shopping     By the way, are you also looking for the perfect gifts for those you love? christmas-ornaments-on-treeWhat about a gift for Jesus? It is His birthday, after all! Have you thought about what He might want from you for a present under your Christmas tree?believe-presents-under-a-christmas-treeJesus isn’t looking for something you can find in a store or online, He just wants you. He wants you to believe in Him, love Him, trust Him, give yourself to him, and wait patiently on Him. Can you believe that?? After all, is there anything you’d rather have from your loved one?isaiah-40-31-they-that-wait-upon-the-lord-will-renew-their-strength“…how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37).

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31).

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:4).

 

 

 

Ode to Icicles

icicles-and-snow-fallingOde to Iciclesicicles-seen-from-insideBars on my castle
Iced drops of rain
Jack Frost was crying
Out my window pane.  rings-and-ridges-in-iciclesSnowflakes dissolving
Wept frozen tears
Ringed like a tree trunk
In hours, not years.  icicles-in-the-sunshineTransparent carrots
Grown in the wind
Sunshine to water
But no one to tend. icicles-like-stalactitesCrystal stalactites
Not from a cave
Born in the open
Where birds must be brave. sparrows-sitting-on-rail-in-winter

icicles-growing-in-a-rowSwords of Damocles
Hung from the sky
Begging the question
Is something awry?
icicles-formingFair jewels from snow
Sharp as a knife
More precious than bread
The Water of Life.
long-icicles-12-15-16The longer they hang
The longer they grow
The longer I know
My life must need snow.
(—Kathryn W. Armstrong, December 15, 2016)row-of-icicles-hanging-off-roof “Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?” (Job 38:22).icicles-snow-and-sunshine

Let it Snow??

winter-wonderland-in-michiganAlthough it’s grey this morning, we had a foot of snow descend like shimmering stardust over the weekend, turning Michigan’s landscape into a winter wonderland. The moon reflecting off the snowdrifts made the night seem almost bright last night. Were it not for so many of my loved ones needing to travel, I’d say, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” deep-snowsHowever, it’s not just Alan commuting to work and my son Stephen needing to drive home from New York for Christmas vacation that’s on my mind. It’s my close friends who are commuting over an hour to Lansing because their father is dying…and my friends who are driving back and forth from northern Michigan, where their parents have just been admitted to an assisted living facility…my friend who is trying to recover from a broken hip, and my friend whose mom is in the hospital with a stroke. snowy-woodsLife is so beautiful, but life is also extremely painful and difficult, isn’t it? Even those of us who aren’t dealing with physical pain ourselves are hurting for those we love, because some of them are really suffering this holiday season. Losses. Loss of spouses. Loss of children. This week’s emphasis on the Advent Calendar is joy, and our pastor reminded us that joy can coexist with pain and suffering, not through denial of the pain, but through the joy of hope and the experience of love. snowy-evergreensI hope during this holiday season you’re able to experience love, hope, peace…and yes—JOY!— with those who are dear to you—even in the midst of life’s heartaches. The very best present is your presence with those who are suffering. I pray for all of us to reach out and touch others with joy this Christmas. ‘Tis the season!  christmas-bells

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.”
(—Lyrics by Isaac Watts, 1719; Music by George Frideric Handel)

 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).