Category Archives: Travels Around the World

The Art of Life

How is your January coming? Have you noticed that it takes a certain amount of leisure to be meditative and creative? I have to confess that between all the marvelous company (beginning November 21 and lasting into January, which made me extremely happy but exhausted) and a strangling cold that wouldn’t relinquish its grip until Alan and I went on a two-week cruise through the Panama Canal (where we rested in healing, sunny, 82° sea breezes)…until these past two months came and went, I’ve been so focused on living that there’s been precious little time for meditative reflection or writing. Have you also noticed how valuable it is to take a step back from your daily routines every once in a while to gain perspective and recalibrate your spirit?  During our break, I was encouraged by these words from Leonardo da Vinci: “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer, since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power of judgment…Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance, and lack of harmony or proportion is more readily seen.”*  Isn’t that the truth…not only for the creative genius of a Renaissance man, but for the creative art of making our lives a work of beauty and goodness?   I’m well, refreshed and ready to begin anew. Here is my first offering…a little poem that came to me while enjoying this peaceful Pacific sunrise last week:

Light

I long to write a poem:
Simple.
Elegant.
Filled with God.

Even more, I long to be a poem:
So filled with light that all are drawn to the Light.
So beautiful that those who draw near are also warmed and filled.
So deep that even eternity will not end our unity.

If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
(1 John 1:7)

 Jesus prayed, “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:23).

(*The three middle photos weren’t taken in Central America but from a different vacation, with our two youngest sons, while visiting da Vinci’s residence in Amboise, France known as Clos Lucé.)

Where Are You?

(The following devotional was written by my friend, Lisa Walkendorf, and I think it’s a great reflection to begin our journey into the new year. As Pastor Rick taught me, “Wherever you are, be all there!”)

We spent a day touring Athens, Greece before flying home from a mission trip recently. We saw amazing sights and marveled at history mixed within current culture… current sites built along historic ones.   Ruins were visible in the midst of town.   We (like many others) came as tourists to study and reflect on the past.  It is incredible that items from the 5th century BC have survived  and are still preserved for us today! We marveled as we toured the archeological museum.   When we reflected on the day, our group shared what most impressed us,
and there were certainly many options to choose from:  *The Acropolis   *Mars Hill where Paul preached his sermon to the Athenians, noting their worship to “the unknown God” and introducing them
to the known God, who created everything (read more in Acts 17:16-33).  *The delicious, cultural food *The archeological museum  and ancient artifacts.   * All the sites in town.   *And, fellowship with our team members!

One friend shared that she took a picture that impressed her most, but it was not a pretty picture!   It was simply a sign giving directions that stated: You are here. She reflected on the literal reminder “You are here.”  This is where we are.  This is the only life we get to live.  There’s not some other life to live than the one we have.  Some day people may be looking back to this time frame, perhaps viewing it through a museum lens of what was important to us culturally, relationally, and spiritually.

We are here now.  We have this time to love family and friends, to reach out to others and share the good news about Jesus.  It can be helpful to reflect on the question, “Where are you?”  and to be reminded, “You are here!”

Colossians 4:5-6 (NIV) – “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Psalm 90:12 (NIV) – “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Where are you today?

Thanksgiving, Thanksgetting, or Both? (With Illustrations from India and Nepal to Give Perspective)

I have four of the world’s best daughter-in-laws, and my one and only son-in-law is right up there with the best of them too! He is warm, quiet, affectionate, generous, always helpful, devout, ingenious, artistic, and usually has a bit of a smirk on his face, which I presume is his creative imagination kicking in to add a bit of humorous (albeit silent) commentary to life.    I wouldn’t trade him for a barrel of monkeys or anything else you might offer!  All this intro is so you don’t misinterpret his wry pseudonym for Thanksgiving, which is (as you’ve probably guessed) “Thanksgetting.”   So, what are you doing for Thanksgetting tomorrow? Lord willing, we’ll do what we most often do: Gather with those of our family who are able to come and share a Thanksgiving “feast,” and then we’ll sit in a circle around a candle-lit coffee table in our living room and play “The Thankful Game.” Do you ever play that game? It’s a time of reflecting on all the blessings we’ve received over the past year from God, and we go around the circle sharing one by one, round and round until we all seem content that we’ve remembered to give thanks to God for all the most important things we’ve gotten from him. It’s really an opportunity to recognize God’s goodness in our lives and a great way to worship Him, whether you’re alone for Thanksgiving or in a big group.
However you celebrate, I hope you focus on what you’ve gotten rather than what you’ve given this year, and if it’s been a terrible year where you’ve suffered great loss, perhaps you can think about what you still have.  I have a number of friends who’ve had serious physical problems this year, and some who have lost someone precious to them, and my heart grieves for them.  Still, after visiting India and Nepal recently, I am reminded of how “good” most of us have it in America.  King David suffered terrible losses in his life, and yet he wrote beautiful psalms of praise to God for His goodness and graces.  I pray that whatever your circumstances, you’ll be able to say with David: “I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116 :17, emphasis mine; notice that sometimes it is actually an act of sacrifice to believe in God, surrender to him, and find reasons to give him thanks in the midst of anguish). Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms” (Psalm 95:2). Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name” (Psalm 100:4).   And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing” (Psalm 107:22).   “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (1 Timothy 6:8).

What Kind of Schmuck Are You?!

Yesterday, I got a call from a carpenter who’s going to be updating our 30-year-old kitchen, and when he accidentally called me “Karen,” he apologized by saying, “I’m sorry! I’m really a schmuck!” I didn’t mind his forgetting my name (he hasn’t even started working for us yet), but I did find myself reactive to the idea that he made it sound like a “schmuck” is a bad thing, because I have a young friend whom I greatly admire whose last name is Schmuck. This Schmuck wants to become a minister, and he’s working his way through college by serving as a member of the maintenance department at our church. We’ve been involved in ministry together, and he is an all-around all-star guy. He also has a great sense of humor, and I’ve heard they advertised the youth group by saying, “Come, and don’t worry, because you’ll never be the only schmuck here!”  So, while we were in Nepal, I couldn’t help but notice the sign on the bathroom door where we had our much-longed-for rest stop on the Prithivi Highway. I took a photo with my cell phone to send to Zach, but then I thought better of it, just in case it might hurt his feelings. However, just a few days later, we visited the International Mountain Museum, and I noticed that there was a famous mountain climber by the name of Marcus Schmuck who led the first successful assent of Mt. Broad Peak back in 1957. It was a very difficult and lofty achievement, indeed, and one that has only been repeated a scant handful of times since.Broad Peak is the twelfth highest mountain in the world, very dangerous, and in such a remote area of Pakistan’s Karakoram Range that no one in the western world even knew it existed until 1892!So, I want to defend the name “Schmuck” and say that there are some mighty fine schmucks out there! Last summer, my young friend got married, and I know that even though he’s had to scrub a lot of toilets while working his way through college (which is not what he’s doing here; he and his wife had a foot-washing ceremony during their wedding [which is very biblical, by the way]), this young man is a true mountain climber, and I know he will also achieve some lofty goals for our Lord over the course of his lifetime.   Jesus taught: “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12).

Jesus also set the example for us: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:3-10).

Prithivi Highway: The Longest (and Most Memorable)110-Mile Bus Trip I’ve Ever Taken

Most of the time we flew between destinations on our tour of India and Nepal, but on one occasion we took a scenic bus trip  along the Prithivi Highway through the rugged terrainbetween Chitwan and Pokhara in Nepal.  It was “only” 110 miles, and according to the literature,  we were supposed to enjoy the ride during the morning,  then arrive at our hotel in time for lunch and spend the afternoon touring. NOT!  It took us 8.5 hours to travel the 110 miles with only two brief bathroom breaks. The temperature was approximately a million degrees out,  and between the heavy traffic,  aftermath of the devastating earthquake in 2015  and intensive road construction,  the air was so full of dust that trying to make out what was happening outside the windows  took considerable concentration and creative imagination… which was particularly taxing considering the state of our bladders on such a rocky road!   (My friend Deb said the bus ride was so bumpy that her Fitbit recorded her as walking 10,000 steps although she didn’t think she’d really walked even 500!) In fact, Alan had to sit in the front seat and also concentrate on not throwing up, since the 600 hairpin turns we’d traveled on Hawaii’s Heavenly Hana Highway had been but scant practice  for surviving this rollicking ride balancing on the edge of the steep gorge overlooking the Narayani River Basin through the foothills of the Himalayan and Annapurna Mountain Ranges,  which are home to eight of the world’s fourteen highest peaks!  However, this trip was not only memorable for the twists and turns as we progressed at a blistering twelve miles an hour  through unbelievable clouds of dust and dirt,  it was also remarkable for a never-ending stream of gorgeous views  that would have taken our breath away  had we had any (which we didn’t, due to elevation and air pollution).  Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the most dangerous road trip I’ve ever taken  —although it possibly was! (Well, maybe my all-time scariest bus ride was in China back in 1995
when our bus’s transmission gave out in high gear)! 😦  And, it might not have been the dustiest ride I’ve ever been on  …although I really can’t think of anything to compete!   On the bright side, we had great air-conditioning, and we were definitely in the mountains much of the time (like, most of the time), which was cooler.  Our driver was amazing, and although he drove as furiously as Jehu, he allowed emergency roadside stops once or twice (but what’s that between friends?). We were also granted two real stops during the 8.5 hours (but what’s that between friends with post-60-year-old bladders full of breakfast coffee?).  Well, we all survived, and as far as I know, nobody threw up or wet their pants. It was also a ride I’ll bet nobody ever, ever forgets  (unless they develop Alzheimer’s).  Would I do it again?  Yes, although with my eyes open and an entirely empty bladder.  Would I recommend it for others? Absolutely!
(Possibly not for those who get motion sick
or have breathing, heart, G.I. or bladder issues.)
Did I learn anything? Yes!  And, if you’re willing, let me share a few of the meditations of my heart  while we bounced along:  Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
(Matthew 5:8, it’s hard to see when the windows of our hearts are dirty.)   “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith,
having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience,
and our bodies washed with pure water
” (Hebrews 10:22). I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom  concerning all things that are done under heaven:  this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.” (Ecclesiastes 1:13)Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness
unto them which are exercised thereby
” (Hebrews 12:11).  (The Prithivi Highway is going to be one of the world’s most beautiful
when it’s finished!)   “And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal,
proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb
” (Revelation 22:1). Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst;
but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water
springing up into everlasting life
” (John 4:14).  What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?” “I have seen the travail,
which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it. 
He hath made every thing beautiful in his time:  “also he hath set the world in their heart,  “so that no man can find out the work that God maketh “from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:9-11).

Tastes of India? Pure Foods and Pure Water

I think the strangest things I’ve eaten in this past month were crickets and bone marrow…   but these weren’t items we were expected to eat on our trip to India and Nepal!   These were some of the upscale tapas offered on the menu of the Ox and Tail restaurant in Rochester, NY, where Alan and I had dinner with our son, Stephen last Saturday night.

Did I like them? Actually, no. Would I order them again? Definitely not!
But, did they make me sick? Believe it or not, the answer is “no.” So, how is it that I can eat disgusting (sounding…and tasting)
food in America without getting sick,  whereas Alan and I ate a lot of gourmet-appearing food  but were still sick the entire time we were in India and Nepal,  despite eating in extremely elegant places that catered to Western tastes? Part of the problem might have been that,
although we ate at some amazing venues  —including some palaces and UNESCO world heritage sites—  we were on a “discovery tour,” which included picnics on river banks in jungles,  buffets in over 100°F. heat under tent awnings in remote areas, steamy dinners in the jungles of Nepal,  and some gracious dinners prepared and served in local homes.We were always careful to drink only bottled water  and tried to choose our food very carefully  (although sometimes I wasn’t really sure what I was eating…), and we tried to make sure all the meats were well cooked. Unfortunately, these precautions weren’t enough.

I usually have a stomach of steel, but not this trip! I assumed it was simply that Westerners aren’t used to the types of bacteria in India, but after returning homeI learned that sanitation and water pollution is a huge issue in India, not  just for foreigners, but for everyone. Diarrhea is the fourth highest cause of death in India today…way ahead of any type of cancer! Several of the men on our trip required prescription-strength medications to recover, and about halfway through the trip, I began to worry that Alan and I might be too old for this type of travel.  After returning and thinking about things, I would like to offer this brief list of ideas for any adventurers who want to travel to India or other very remote areas of the Eastern world:
*Only use bottled water, never tap water, or ice cubes made from tap water.
*Take seriously all the precautions suggested by your travel guides
*Carry and use hand sanitizer before eating
*The one couple who never got ill took acidophilus tablets, which are an over-the-counter probiotic; I plan to use them too if I ever go again.
*Before you go, get a prescription for ciprofloxacin (or whatever medication your physician recommends for you in case of serious diarrhea and dehydration). Finally, I’d like to suggest that not only do our bodies require pure water for good health, so do our hearts and minds!

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him” (Proverbs 30:5).

And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” (Revelation 21:6).

Thoughts on Cremation and Afterlife from Visiting Kathmandu’s Pashupatinath Temple

Have you ever experienced a cremation ceremony?The Pashupatinath Temple, where we watched people being cremated,   is on the Bagmati River, which flows into the Ganges River
and is considered the most sacred river in Nepal. The Pashupatinath Temple is really a complex that includes 518 temples
and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The original temple (the oldest in Kathmandu) was built around 400 BC, although the beautiful present-day temple was erected in the 15th century
after the earlier temple was destroyed by termites. Pashupati is the name of one of their 330 million gods,  and if my understanding is correct, Hindus believe he is one of the manifestations of Lord Shiva, one of the three principle deities of Hinduism.  There are so many threads I’d like to follow from this experience, but perhaps the most profound impact came from watching people being cremated.  Wisely (given the intense heat and population density), it is traditional for a person to be cremated immediately, on the day of his death.  (One tradition that I wish Americans would adopt is this:
The entire family takes 13 days together to mourn after their loved one dies.)

There are several rituals that occur before the family arrives with their deceased loved one to the Bagmati River, like wrapping the corpse is in two representative colors: white (for purity, purified with cow urine) and orange (for holiness). The corpse is carried to the edge of the river on a bamboo ladder, where the feet are repeatedly washed or sprinkled with water from the river for the purpose of purifying and beautifying the body.           Friends and family members form a line to pay their last respects,         and most of them participate in pouring ghee (oil) into the person’s mouth.                  They also often leave gifts of paper money or flowers.     Next, an elaborate funeral pyre is constructed on one of the concrete slabs using sandalwood (if possible, because of its fragrance), and the body is laid on it.  If it is a man who dies, the oldest son is responsible as the kartā (person who cares for the dead relative) and lights the fire, which begins with the mouth.  If it is a woman, her youngest son takes on the responsibility and honor of kartā.  To make the fire hotter and ensure that the entire body is immolated, the body is covered with straw and often smeared with butter or sugar. Because of the (now illegal) Hindu practice of “Sati” (where the wife had to be burned too if her husband died as a way of honoring him), today all the women leave the area before the body is burned,  but the kartā and other men watch over the cremation, which can take 3+ hours.  After the body and wood are completely consumed, the kartā sweeps all the ashes into the river and washes down the platform so it’s ready for the next funeral.  Although beliefs and customs vary (as they do in every religion), my understanding (from our tour manager and other sources I studied) is that cremation is a way of returning the body to the earth.  Hindus believe that the world consists of 5 elements: Air, water, earth, sky, and fire, and the cremation process includes all five elements, returning the body to the earth from which it came.     However, Hindus believe that although the body will die, the soul does not.  If the person lives a life with good “karma” (intentions and actions) that will lead them either to a higher station in life when they are reincarnated or to “heaven,” and if the person leads a life of bad karma, they will be reincarnated into a lesser form of life (such as an animal or lower) or hell. At the temple, there were a number of sadhus and aghora (monks who desire to become holy by ascetic practices.)  They were more than happy to pose for photos (as long as we gave them money), but I think they are often shunned by many Hindus and seemed very strange to us as Westerners.  In contrast to Hindu beliefs, I would like to share the Christian perspective, which includes purification by the blood of Christ, not holy river water, and offers regeneration through faith in Christ rather than reincarnation. Also, the Bible holds out the hope of eternal life as a gift after this present life ends, not because we’re justified by our ability to live out such good karma that we no longer need to be reincarnated, but by grace, based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ on our behalf:Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men. For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men” (Titus 3:1-8, emphasis mine).