Growing Pains

This pretty much sums up my natural sentiment toward change. I’m a resistor. The whole problem must be never getting a good dose of Thomas Edison’s bright idea: “Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” 🙂

In fact, had not our 30-year-old wooden walkway become so rotten that it was a slipping hazard during every rain . . . and the cedar siding so rotten that both the birds and the bees were nesting in it (no joke) . . . well, maybe I could have protested that the status quo was quite comfy and good enough for me. But, it was not, and even I knew something had to be done. So, Silvio (who has pretty much remade our home at this point) ripped off the front porch, and the Big Dig began.

After lots of lively debate (which I tend to lose), there was considerable “vision creep” (as my husband calls it), and instead of a new porch, Alan thought a new sun room would be even nicer.

I can’t explain all the reasoning behind the decisions, but apparently for structural soundness, it made sense to put a basement underneath the sun room, and Silvio thought it might be a good idea to have more room to store our junk anyway.

Now, even I wasn’t dumb enough to fall for that idea, but it did occur to me that I would love more space for our kids and grandchildren (who now number 29 and often come to visit), and so with the carrot of a little guest apartment somewhere down the road, I gave in. That was over a year ago.

Renovation is always full of surprises. One of the first was learning that the old foundation for the porch was not just made from posts but out of huge concrete abutments that had to be broken off.

Every day I marveled at the powerful machinery and massive amount of work that had to take place. There wasn’t one chance in a million I would have had the know-how or muscle to do all the work.

Thankfully, we have a great builder whom I pretty much trust with my life at this point, but I’m sure he had many a headache trying to figure out everything and coordinate all the men and machinery.

There were constant setbacks over the months, and lots of “oops” moments, like the time all the draping in the basement (hung to keep concrete mud spray from showering our music gear and library) fell down while the men were working. That day, the main room in our basement was filled with something that reminded me of the volcanic ash spewing from Mt. St. Helen when it erupted back in 1980. Close friends who lived in Portland, Oregon (70 miles from the eruption) said their rain gutters became clogged with volcanic ash that turned to concrete when it rained. That’s just about the way I felt!!

Well, I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice it to say, it was a long,

long,

long,

long,

painstaking process!

I’ve had a lot of time over the months to think about the impossibility of my ever being able to do what this huge team of guys did, and to think about my own life, which needs renovation too.

I am thankful for God (the master builder in my life), and his huge team (the Church) who work together helping me with the renovations I need. In a million years, I wouldn’t have the know-how or spiritual power to perfect myself. Would you? Do you resist change the way I do? Although I trust God with my life, I still find myself fussing and disagreeing from time to time. I wonder if I give Jesus headaches the way Silvio has had headaches from trying to get everything “just right.” 😦 🙂

At any rate, we’re far from done, and the grass is just beginning to grow,

but the sun room is finally finished, just in time for Alan’s birthday (today), so he’ll be able to sit in his new room tonight!

(Which, BTW, is a whole lot bigger than our cozy little living room!)

I can’t exactly tell you what Tanglewood Cottage will look like when all the renovations are done, but I can tell you—by faith—that it will be wonderful . . . just like I will be when I’m all finished (in heaven).

“End of Construction—Thank you for your patience.”

Like Billy Graham’s wife, I have every confidence that someday all the rotten boards and siding in my life will be replaced, and all the renovations will be complete. I will be like Jesus! If you give God your life, He’ll do the same for you! You might not turn out exactly like you were planning, but the net effect will be better than you could have imagined!

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 5:15).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (32): Let Your Light Shine

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ). In this passage, Jesus tells us that we are both salt and light. Salt flavors and heals. Light helps us see. Salt is a hard mineral—tiny bits of rock with sharp edges; it can cause a lot of pain if it gets in our eyes. Light seems almost metaphysical (although it isn’t); without light, we can’t see anything, but too much light can blind us. Salt makes our food taste better; light makes our world look better. Too much salt makes our food inedible. Too much light makes it impossible to see anything. How can we be salt and light in a way that brings healing without the hurt and light without the blindness?

Presque Isle Lighthouse in Marquette, Michigan

For one thing, Jesus wants us to shine like a lantern, or like the lamp in a lighthouse—not brash and in your face, but clean-burning, steady, and dependably good. While visiting Big Sable Point Lighthouse a few days ago, we heard about the huge fresnel lenses from years ago that had to be continually polished inside and out to keep them clear.

Second-generation fresnel lens from Stannard Rock Lighthouse, now in Marquette, MI

The one at Ludington had a light that would extend 18 miles across the water by using a spherical reflector with the filament of the lamp placed exactly at the focus point of the reflector. Ah, being focused is so important! It’s not just living in a whirl of activity, but living in such a way that we are truly radiating God’s goodness.

I’ve also been thinking about the hard lives of the lighthouse keepers . . . the isolation, the constant need to refuel the lights night and day, severe weather, dangerous work of going outside to polish the lenses, and the need for the lens to be perfectly focused in order to send the beam out so far that it actually reached to the point where the curvature of the earth made it impossible to see the light any more, no matter how bright the light was.

Light in Big Sable Point Lighthouse

Today, modern technology and electricity have revolutionized lighting, and a very “wimpy-looking” lantern can emit enough light to reach 15 miles. Christ followers in America have it very easy compared to those in most nations around the world. We don’t have to suffer great hardships and live in constant danger, isolation, and deprivation. I feel like a wimpy little light. HOWEVER, God still calls us to be lights, and keeping spiritually clean, pure, and in good spiritual working order is absolutely as essential in America as in the darkest corner of the earth. (In fact, America seems to becoming more and more one of those dark corners of the earth!) No matter where we live, let’s continue to obey Jesus and let our lights shine out by faithfully doing good works. Why? Not so we look good, but so people will see the Light of Life—God himself—shining out through us and glorify Him.

Marquette Lighthouse in Michigan

Let the Lower Lights Be Burning
(-Philip P. Bliss, 1871, Public Domain)

  1. Brightly beams our Father’s mercy,
    From His lighthouse evermore,
    But to us He gives the keeping
    Of the lights along the shore.
    • Refrain:
      Let the lower lights be burning!
      Send a gleam across the wave!
      Some poor struggling, fainting seaman
      You may rescue, you may save.
  2. Dark the night of sin has settled,
    Loud the angry billows roar;
    Eager eyes are watching, longing,
    For the lights along the shore.
  3. Trim your feeble lamp, my brother;
    Some poor sailor, tempest-tossed,
    Trying now to make the harbor,
    In the darkness may be lost.

Text for this meditation: “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16).

*Painting of Jesus with the lamb is by Yongsung Kim and used by his permission, website: Havenlight.com The rest are mine (as always unless otherwise noted), taken this past year in Ludington and Marquette, Michigan.

Forgiveness: A Grace Disguised

One of the most emotionally fragrant books I’ve ever experienced is A Grace Disguised, written by Jerry Sittser as a reflection on his experiences of losing his mother, his wife, and his daughter all in one fatal crash when a drunken man plowed into their car. The title includes “how the soul grows through loss.” I can’t begin to explain how inspirational and nurturing this book was to me, but I can just say, “Think about reading it!” (I have a copy if you live in the Grand Rapids area and would like to borrow it.) It’s a short book that walks you through his family’s life, their death, and his struggle to survive and establish a new life following this unthinkable tragedy. (He was left with three small children to rear alone!) Jerry is very open about the raw pain and excruciating process, but grace shines out all around like beams of light radiating from behind thunderheads. In fact, grace undergirds the story like a brilliant silver lining under black clouds, leaving the reader (me) with a deep peace in knowing that God was there through it all, steady and unchanging behind the storm.

The book is too full of wrestlings and wisdom to try a thorough review, but the single most moving chapter to me was his learning to forgive and his thoughts on the power and importance of forgivenesss. I’d like to quote the whole chapter, but let me just quote a couple of ideas. He starts by describing how he had a desire for revenge. “The real problem, however, is not revenge itself but the unforgiving heart behind revenge. Unforgiveness is like fire that smolders in the belly, like smoke that smothers the soul. It is destructive because it is insidious. Occasionally it flares up in the form of bitter denunciation and explosions of rage. But most of the time it is content to stay low to the ground, where it goes unnoticed, quietly doing its deadly work” (p. 136).

The problem, then, is to learn how to forgive, even if the offender has not repented and asked forgiveness (as his alcoholic offender never did). “Unforgiveness makes a person sick by projecting the same scene of pain into the soul day after day, as if it were a videotape that never stops. Every time the scene is replayed, he or she relives the pain and becomes angry and bitter all over again. That repetition pollutes the soul. Forgiveness requires that we refuse to play the videotape and choose to put it on the shelf. We remember the painful loss; we are aware of who is responsible. But, we do not play it over and over again. Instead, we play other tapes that bring healing to us. Thus, forgiveness not only relieves an offender from guilt; it also heals us from our sickness of soul” (144).

Sittser goes on to point out that forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting (which we’ll never be able to do anyway). He grapples with his anger at God, too: “I held God responsible for my circumstances. I placed my confidence in him; I also argued with him. In any case, God played the key role” (147).


“Faith also changes our attitude about the people who wrong us, for it forces us to view their wrongdoing in the light of our own. Knowledge of God reveals knowledge of ourselves as well. We learn that we bear the image of God, but we also see that we are sinful. Sinful people need God’s forgiveness. Jesus once said that people who are forgiven much love much. The experience of forgiveness makes us forgiving. Once we see ourselves as people who need God’s mercy, we will be more likely to show mercy to others” (147).

Well, I can’t explain the book very well, but if you have suffered a great loss in your life and struggle to forgive, please consider reading Sittser’s story! As a supporting P.S of his life—I discovered that Sittser was teaching in Spokane, Washington, when the accident occurred. As I have a son who was also teaching in Spokane, Washington, I asked him if he knew Jerry Sittser. “Yes! We’ve had lunch together!” So, Jerry Sittser continues to thrive academically and spiritually, even years later!

While trying to prepare this, I was also touched by this wonderful consideration in the daily devotional that my son Joel gave me for Christmas (and we read together at the breakfast table):

“The final test of compassionate prayer goes beyond prayers for fellow Christians, members of the community, friends, and relatives. Jesus says it most unambiguously, ‘I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5:44); and in the depth of his agony on the cross, he prays for those who are killing him, ‘Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.’ (Luke 23:34). Here the full significance of the discipline of prayer becomes visible. Prayer allows us to lead into the center of our hearts not only those who love us but also those who hate us. This is possible only when we are willing to make our enemies part of ourselves and thus convert them first of all in our own heart” (Henri J.M. Nouwen, You Are The Beloved, May 19).

Casting Your Bread Upon the Waters

Over the years, I’ve felt led by the verse, “Freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8) when it comes to blogging and sharing photos, so whenever someone has asked my permission to use a picture, I’ve always given permission without charge. Of course, I appreciate it when they credit me (and give a link back to my blog if appropriate), but as long as they aren’t selling my work per se, I’m happy to share the gifts that God has given me—in this case the privilege and leisure to observe and record glimpses into God’s magnificent creation.

Over time, my photos have shown up in dozens of diverse venues. To name a few: posters for national parks, a book on Central Park, advertisements for state fairs and tourist sites, a video for carpet cleaner, the front cover for an Episcopalian magazine, a tee-shirt design, as part of a composer’s music video, to enlarge and print for use in various people’s private homes, as subject matter for a young artist’s painting, many times to illustrate the blogs of fellow writers, and most recently, to be used in a large-format sepia drawing to be displayed in a public building. I’ve even noticed (a bit to my dismay) that sometimes my photos are used without my permission. In particular, two have showed up as wall paper designs for sale in Greece! 🙂

I have also had many friends and family members who have allowed me to use their photos and other creative work on my blogs, and I am deeply grateful for each of these dear friends! Thank you, thank you, thank you!! However, I have recently been amazed and blessed by a gift from an extremely talented Korean artist, Yongsung Kim.

It all happened as I began diligently searching the internet for free images of the life of Christ to illustrate my new series (“Meditating on the Commands of Christ”) since I cannot go anywhere to take photographs of Jesus at this point and have no talent as an illustrator. I can find wonderful classical paintings of Jesus, but I was longing for some fresh, modern interpretations that might be more appealing to today’s generation and kept coming across paintings by Yongsung Kim that were so original and evocative that they’d take my breath away.

I found Yongsung Kim’s website but was reluctant to ask if I could use his pictures because his artistry is his living, but I also knew that I could never afford to pay him for the value of using of his paintings, since I am not generating any income.

However, I also knew that I have been happy to share what God has given me as a free blessing to others, and so I thought it might be worth asking him! Amazingly, he has given me permission to use his paintings on my blog as long as I credit him and don’t use them for commercial purposes.

So, a huge thank you to Yongsung Kim. I will be sure to credit him at the end of any blog where I use his paintings, and I’ll start right now with a link to his home page:https://www.foundationarts.com/yongsung-kim

“Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days” (Ecclesiastes 11:1).


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)

Beautiful Spilled Milk

Don’t cry for spilled milk.
Some find beauty in spilled milk.
Always look for good.

Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay; and wilt thou bring me into dust again?10 Hast thou not poured me out as milk, and curdled me like cheese?” (Job 10:9-10)

Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (James 5:11) God will bring us through the messes and suffering, just as he did for Job, who was able to testify after all he endured: “But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). May our hearts echo his faith.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (23): Do Not Think That I Will Accuse You

Many people envision God as The Great Judge who will determine our eternal destiny by weighing our souls in the Balance of Life after we die. If our good works outweigh our bad works, we’ll be ushered into glory; but if our bad works outweigh our good works, we’ll be cast into hell. Is that what you think?

This is what the Pharisees thought, and this is what many religions teach, but this is not the way of Christ. He said, “If any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.48 He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:47-48). Jesus told the Pharisees that if they would only come to him, instead of judging them, he would give them eternal life, but they refused.  When they refused to listen to him, Jesus told them:  Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust” (John 5:45).

What did Jesus mean by that? In the Old Testament, God—through Moses—gave us  humans a list of basic “Do’s and Don’ts,” commonly referred to as the Ten Commandments. Most people from Christian countries would say they believe we should keep the Ten Commandments, and many people agree that lying, stealing, and cheating are wrong. But in fact, none of us keep the commandments perfectly at all times. For example, how about the first one: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Who among us has never let some little god—some idol—come between God and ourselves?

Do you know what an idol is? It comes from the Greek word eidolon, which means “a reflection” as in water or a mirror. It’s not necessarily a literal image we bow down to and worship, but it is the representation of something we see and want. In Francine River’s  sweet devotional, Earth Psalms, she points out that idols are just “little nothings.” I like that. Idols are as ephemeral as a reflection in water . . . fleeting and without substance. We want them intensely, but they never really satisfy. They can’t.

On the other hand, God—our Father God, God Almighty—is unchanging and eternal. He is the only One who can satisfy us completely. Only God is worth worshiping, yet how often we chase some illusory vision or allow our own reflection to become our idol! Are we worshiping God, or ourselves? Who is the center of our personal universe? Whom do we love and live for?

So, if we can’t even keep the first of the Ten Commandments, I don’t think we should really want to be measured by the Mosaic Law. But, God does give us that choice: We can be saved through faith in the work of Christ, or we can be judged by the Law of Moses. Which would you prefer?

For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law” (Romans 2:12).

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Revelation 20:12).

Be ye holy; for I am holy.17 And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear:18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:16-19). This is my testimony: I am not hoping that my good works will outweigh my bad works. I know that won’t happen. Instead, I have been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus, the perfect lamb of God, who died for my sins and for the sins of all who will put their faith in him. I hope this is true of you too! May we give up all our “little nothings” and place our faith and hope in Christ.

Texts for this week’s study:

And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.41 I receive not honour from men.42 But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.43 I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.44 How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me.47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” (John 5:40-47).

And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.48 He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.49 For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.50 And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.” John 12:47-50

The “Ten Commandments” from Exodus 20:1-17

“And God spake all these words, saying,

2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

7 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

13 Thou shalt not kill.

14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

15 Thou shalt not steal.

16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”