Are you wild about flowers? I am!! Everywhere we go, I’m pausing to admire and photograph brilliant flowers, and I never cease to wonder at their delicate textures, exquisite forms, tantalizing aromas, and luscious coloring. Alan, on the other hand, has a bit of motor mania.
(Can you tell who exclaimed over what in this picture?) Over time, I’ve learned to recognize many garden flowers and have found to my delight that the vast majority of these beauties seem able to flourish almost universally around the world. All these pictures were taken on our Southeastern Asia cruise (from the equator to near the 45th parallel), and yet—if you’re a flower lover—you’ve probably noticed most of them growing in some garden not far from you. Of course, many of these flowers— such as the gorgeous lotus
(national flower of Vietnam) and orchid (national flower of Singapore)— have been transplanted from various countries where they are indigenous, and they have to be maintained with great care in their new environments. Have you ever considered that foreign people are like foreign flowers? They have been transplanted, and if they are to thrive in our culture, they will need special care. Do you know people who’ve moved from another country to your neighborhood? May we reach out to them in love, appreciating that they’re also universal gifts of beauty
to be treasured and nurtured! “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).
The “River of Kings” snakes 231 miles through the entire heart of Thailand, including Bangkok, so after our morning of site-seeing (this is the famous “China House” restaurant) we were treated to a cruise down the Chao Phraya River on our way to an authentic (and gourmet) Thai lunch buffet. We traveled in a flat-bottomed sampan. The sampans are everywhere and used by everybody both for transporting goods and passengers… so we had to wait in a very long, hot line to board, although the line wound through stalls with all sorts of exotic items for sale that you really couldn’t get in America, so that was very…educational! 🙂 Our river cruise took us by the Buddhist Temple known as Wat Arun, which is often featured in photos (but was being restored this spring). River life is fascinating…a world unto itself, but it’s a great way to get insight into the heart of a city and take its pulse. We saw lots of unusual but lovely architecture and marveled at the busy-ness and population density.We saw beautiful government buildings and could tell they honor their royalty. We noted that there are not only many Buddhist temples…
but also a few churches. Like every city, there were not only amazing skyscrapers, but some old, run down buildings that needed to be restored or replaced. However, cruising the Chao Phraya River was a remarkably different experience in this one way: There is no bridge separating wealth and poverty.Along the Chao Phraya River beauty and ugliness dwell side by side. Someone asked our tour guide why the poor people didn’t sell their homes; with the profit they could doubtless have much better housing somewhere else! However, the tour guide said the people have lived there for generations and don’t want to give up their land and lifestyle. I think my own heart is like the Chao Phraya River! I’ve surrendered my heart to Jesus, and there are areas where he’s made something beautiful of my life. But, there are also many places where I’m still hanging on to the way things have been done for generations…and I seem unwilling or unable to allow change. The Lord loves us so much that he gives us perfect freedom to choose,
and we may prefer running our own lives to risking change,
feeling like we’re already happy and content with our status quo life… and never able to visualize or believe that something even better could exist!But, as for me, I’m ready to leave my comfort zone and let the Lord build whatever he wants in my life—
for his glory and the blessing of others. “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord‘s, and he hath set the world upon them” (1 Samuel 2:8).
Nestled in the heart of Bangkok along the banks of the Chao Phraya River is a gorgeous complex of buildings known as the Grand Palace, which is the pulsing heart of Thailand’s political and religious life. The walls for this 2.3+million sq.ft. park were built in 1782, and since its inception, the Grand Palace has not only been the official residence of all the Kings of Siam (now “Thailand”) but also home to the nation’s most sacred Buddhist temple, known as the Wat Pra Kaeo, the “Royal Chapel of the Emerald Buddha.” The Emerald Buddha was actually carved from a single piece of dark green jade, is 26″ high, and can only be touched by the current king, who changes his robes at the beginning of each of their three seasons: summer, winter, and rainy. The Thai people believe the Emerald Buddha will bring them good fortune and prosperity. The Emerald Buddha has a history somewhat similar to that of the Golden Buddha (which I told 2 days ago). Although much of it’s long history is legendary, the factual part that can be substantiated is that its true value was lost for centuries…until 1434, when a lightning storm struck the temple where it was housed, toppling and chipping the statue’s nose as well as washing away some of its stucco exterior to reveal gemstone underneath. (Photo of wall of Wat Phra Kaeo) Now, I welcome anyone to correct me, but my understanding has always been that Buddhism is a non-theistic religion which teaches there is no creator-god and tries to encourage people to overcome suffering through enlightened perspectives. Buddha didn’t believe in God, but it looks to me like he’s been turned into a god. Please refine my thinking if you are a Buddhist and would like to explain what’s really happening at Buddhist temples. Are people worshiping Buddha? Thank you!
Haiku: “Puzzlement” Great teacher Buddha Did you teach there is no God? Why are you now gold? “Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold” (The Bible, Exodus 20:23).
(I took all the above photographs a few weeks ago, except for the picture of the Emerald Buddha, which is by WPPilot, used by permission from Wiki Commons.)
Until we visited just recently, I had no idea that Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, has a population as high as New York City (8.5 million) and is geographically twice as large (605 sq. miles). I was also surprised to learn it’s become 1 of the world’s top tourist destinations …which may not be all good, since I’ve also read it ranks among the worst countries for human trafficking, and I’d had a number of friends who’ve worked in Thailand trying to rescue young girls from this terrible evil. Our ship arrived at the Port of Laem Chabang, and we had to take a very congested, 90-minute bus drive along a highway in the throes of construction in order to reach Wat Trimitr, our first destination. The day was so packed with sites that I will just tell you about this temple and save the rest for another post. Wat Trimitr’s offical title is Phra Phuttha Maha Suwan Patimakon and is also known as “The Temple of the Golden Buddha.” It houses the world’s largest solid gold statue, a carving of the Buddha in the Sukothai style, dating it as perhaps 700+ years old. The Golden Buddha is almost 10 feet tall and is made out of 5.5 tons of gold, valued at about 250 million USD today. The tour guide told us about its particularly fascinating history: In order to protect it from being stolen by the Burmese, the statue was covered in a layer of heavy stucco, but eventually that secret was lost. No one remained who even knew its value! Then, in 1955, while an attempt was being made to move it to another location from an old temple ruin, they underestimated the weight (plaster’s a lot lighter than gold!), the ropes broke, and the statue fell over, chipping off some of the stucco and revealing the gold underneath. Can you imagine their surprise when they discovered their old statue was actually almost priceless…the world’s most valuable gold statue?! So it is with Jesus Christ, who came to earth as a man…encased in a body of clay. It was only after the resurrection, when (as Shakespeare would say) he shuffled off his mortal coil and the gleam of eternal life radiated out from the tomb that his value became obvious: Jesus was God but had been clothed in humanity. He came to earth to teach us about God and to die in our place, so that we could be reconciled to God and coheirs with him of eternal life. Have you come to know the real, living Jesus, or do you still visualize him as a dusty, dead statue on an old, wooden cross?“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
I’ve heard people say they think sea days on a ship would be boring and confining, but I’d like to offer a little counterpoint. Cruise ships are like small towns—a world unto themselves—so life is mostly what you make of it. Alan and I have grown to love sea days. (Don’t tell me it’s just ’cause we’re old!) On the Princess Sapphire’s Southeastern Asia cruise, we had trouble sleeping through the night at first (being 13 time zones from home), so our days started with coffee and pastries from the International Café
(open 24-hours) sometime between 2-5 am. After our first breakfast, Alan always had to check the menu to see what was going to be for dinner, and then we’d zip up to the Skywalkers Nightclub on the 18th floor, which was completely empty that early and gave us ethereal views of the sun waking up. We’d sip tea and share “devotions,” reading our Bibles aloud and praying. By 7 am, it was time for our second breakfast, which was often a meal we enjoyed with other guests in the International Dining Room or a quick buffet-style breakfast at the Horizon Court. (No matter where you eat, you can still get the “Full English”
+ a zillion other items every day). After breakfast, we usually took an hour walk around the deck
(which had an exact 0.33-mile course) followed by swimming laps in one of their several gorgeous swimming pools… although if the weather was at all inclement, I preferred a good workout in the exercise room, followed by time in the dry sauna and then a soak in their steam sauna. To me, that was the height of luxury! By then, we’d worked up an appetite for lunch and a nap! 🙂 Some days we listened to live lectures or watched performances at their “Movies Under the Stars” poolside theater. We also spent time reading and writing. In fact, Alan read so much that he finally started borrowing books from their library! After a leisurely afternoon, we’d dress up and find our way to our very own table, where we always enjoyed an outstanding dinner. Every evening there were multiple options for live performances as well as new release movies shown “under the stars.” Usually we could find something interesting, but if not, there were always moonlight walks, hot tubbing, games, meeting new people, or just being together. For us, every day was a phenomenal day, but I also think that of the basic elements for a happy life are available to anyone who lives in any small community. If we have shelter, food, friendship, and opportunities for spiritual, physical, intellectual, and emotional growth …isn’t that enough? I often hear of people thinking that being a Christian would be boring and confining, but I don’t. I think it’s even better than being on a cruise!“Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11).
Have you followed news of Charlotte Elizabeth Diana Mountbatten-Windsor’s birth two days ago? Isn’t it fun to have a new princess at Kensington Palace?! Well, I suppose Kate won’t “let them eat cake” but will be feeding Baby Charlotte with the finest of milk for quite a while. However, it did occur to me that the food on the Sapphire Princess seemed fitting for a princess, or a prince, or all of us for that matter! While we were on our cruise, we especially looked forward to dinner every night, and we were never disappointed. From irresistible breads to unusual appetizers, soup (ya, this was a stuff-of-dreams cold apricot cream soup!) salad (notice all the anchovies on this Caesar salad!), antipasto (and Alan definitely has an Italian stomach), main course (“Surf and Turf” anyone?) and dessert (chocolate and peanut butter…does it get any better?) …Alan and I never had a disappointing dish the entire time! Besides being delicious, the servings were wisely apportioned so that you could try many different dishes without overeating (with care; most nights I only ate a bite of Alan’s bread & dessert). One day we took a galley tour and got a little insight into how one of the world’s largest cruise ships serves over 10,000 fabulous meals every day! As one who’s loved to cook since childhood and delights in trying new recipes, I was totally dazzled by the difficulties and organizational genius of our executive chef, Raggie Saldanha, and more than a little thrilled when Alan let me buy a copy of Princess Cruise Line’s 50th Anniversary Cookbook featuring favored recipes from around the world. Next time you visit, just ask, and I’ll try one for you! Next to none of us will ever have the privilege of living at Kensington Palace, and not many will even have the pleasure of taking a Princess cruise, but all of us are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Do you know what that is? It’s a special celebration that God’s planning for all his children, where we’ll be united forever with Jesus and live in his Father’s “palace,” heaven! Would you like to come? “And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings
of God” (Revelation 19:9). “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”
(the name of Jesus Christ, God’s son, John 1:12)
A friend called me this morning, “Now, Kathi, what I don’t understand is this: What were you doing in Singapore?” Ah! I forgot to tell you that Alan and I recently returned from a 17-day cruise around Southeast Asia aboard the Sapphire Princess. I’d been wanting to go to Asia with Alan for many years and had been watching ads for several, but last fall we received a flyer from the Princess Cruise Line advertizing a very special price on this cruise as part of their 50th anniversary celebration for just $70 per day for their lowest-priced inside room. We put down a deposit that day, which was my birthday! I’ve never seen such a great offer again, and it was touch-and-go for a long time whether or not Alan felt like he could actually take that much time off, but his boss and colleagues backed him, and away we went! It’s the longest vacation we’ve ever taken together (just the two of us) and a very special way to commemorate our 65th year of life! The Sapphire Princess is gorgeous ship, and the ports were unforgettable! We toured many exotic places in Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, and China, and I hope to tell you tales from each of those countries, but today I just want to highlight the fact that we went and had an awesome time. We traveled 5,280 miles aboard the Sapphire Princess.
She’s one of the world’s largest ships, immaculately maintained (refitted 2012), has fabulous food, and even the sea days were incredibly fun and relaxing. Thursday I’ll share what a typical day at sea was like for us, but today I want to encourage you to dream, to watch, to pray, and to take a few risks. For instance, I found an outstanding cruise this fall for only $43 per day (truly), but Alan hesitated, and now the deal is gone. Sigh. Well, I am content. But, a trip to Southeast Asia or the Mediterranean on a cruise ship is nothing to compare with a trip to heaven with Jesus. Jesus Christ has already paid the price and offers each of us the opportunity of an eternal lifetime. If you haven’t done so yet, please accept the world’s best offer—forgiveness and eternal life through Christ— and join us in an adventure that never ends!” “Come unto me, all ye that labour 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).