Happy Twelfth Anniversary, Summer Setting!

Once a year on the anniversary of my blog, I reminisce about the joy of writing and what’s happened over the past year. Technically, my anniversary was April 8th, but last month—as America lunged into the COVID pandemic—it seemed more appropriate to concentrate on trying to encourage others in the face of trials than to indulge in personal introspection. However, now that it’s May (and Cinco de Mayo to boot!), I would be very grateful if you’ll allow me the liberty of reflecting on my writing adventure, and I hope you will offer me some counsel as I wrestle with what the Lord may have in mind for my future.

One of my (unspoken until today) dreams for blogging has been to write until I have a million views and then perhaps try to write a book of devotionals. This past week, the 750,000-view mark came and went, so . . . three-fourths of the way to fulfilling this particular vision! Should the Lord see fit to bless my writing with readers at the current rate, that would theoretically make me mature enough to attempt a series of daily devotionals by 2023. However, COVID concerns have changed not only the world’s economic landscape, but my personal sense of how the Spirit may be leading me.

Instead of spending my days embroiled in joyful experiences with family and friends, traveling at home and abroad, I am spending my days enjoying a “sabbath rest” from life as usual. Alan is working virtually from home, giving him at least an extra hour (commute time) daily to invest in home projects. Instead of waiting until he retires, we’re starting the huge process of trying to unbury our basement from 27 years of family life here in GR, not to mention 44 years of parenting and 47 years of marriage. It is daunting, but exhilarating!

We are almost finished with four years’ worth of renovating our kitchen and adding an addition to accommodate our burgeoning family. We moved into our beloved but small “Tanglewood Cottage” with a young family of seven children. Today—with our children and grand children— we number thirty-two and counting, so the extra breathing room is a wonderful blessing. Now we have the happy task of expanding into the new space, finding and making accessible what we have, and throwing out the unwanted and unneeded extra “stuff” that’s gotten buried. Just a few “for instances” that might make you laugh or be aghast (depending on how good a housekeeper you are): I found one daughter-in-law’s wedding dress, my daughter’s master’s thesis, one son’s “Bod Book” (names and addresses of everybody at his school . . . from 1994), and THE WINNER: a box labeled “boys clothing.” We haven’t had “boys” small enough to pass down clothing for at least 15 years and probably longer! (To be honest, tied for THE LOSER are dead stink bugs and dust bunnies! 😦 )

All this to say, perhaps it’s time to expand, de-clutter, clean up, and reorganize my writing life as well. Alan and I have been trying to walk three miles each day, but just up and down our lane. Instead of glorious vistas from around the world, I’m drinking in minuscule changes in the flora and fauna! The cherry trees in blossom; the goslings and ducklings coming ashore, the weeds popping out. If the COVID pandemic keeps us all from venturing very far from home this coming year, I’m thinking about the possibility of writing daily devotionals starting January 1, 2021 based on “little things” (and maybe some of the grander graces of nature) that are common place and surround many of us. Would that be interesting to you?

If I head that direction, I would still have the rest of this year to finish my meditations on the commands of Christ, family recipes, world travel (which I hope has not ended forever but may be postponed for a year or so), and actively trying to review favored movies and books. To be transparent with you, these are the posts which to date have been the most read, so it might be a big change, although— as life has it and minds inevitably operate—I’m sure whatever I experience will find its way into my writing. But, what if I spend 2021 with more of a focus on learning spiritual lessons from nature? Would a closer look at the simple and common encourage us during our months of more confined living? I’m thinking about just one photo per day and basically one simple message, so shorter but hopefully not less worthwhile. That is the possibility I’ve been praying about lately, and if you read this blog and have an opinion about what might be most uplifting for you, I’d sincerely appreciate hearing what you think! Thanks!!

Where no counsel is, the people fall:
but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).

Sonnet 81: “Shall I Compare Thee To a Summer Play?”

“I’d rather go to a Dime-Dog ball game than watch a boring Shakespeare play.” Yikes! Times are changing! In the light of that comment, and in the spirit of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, I couldn’t help but write a (somewhat playful) response expressing my preferences too.

What was considered the height of literary wit four hundred years ago is out of vogue with most of Gen Z, and maybe Gen X too!

As I admitted last time I wrote, even I found a walk in the park more refreshing than a night at the theater!

So, here’s to my Maker, in honor of his glorious being, his creation, and His immutable Word, which stands above time and is eternal, surpassing the eloquence of even the most revered of our English-speaking writers!

Shall l compare Thee to a summer play?
Thou art more worthy and more glorious:
The winds of change oft temper what men say,
Their words, once apt, become notorious.
Words melt and molt; they fade and lose their voice.
What once was wise, youth’s wisdom doth suspect.
The audience today rejects past choice
And says it’s not politically correct.
Though wit be wit and dark be dark through time,
Though love and life and death collide with pow’r,
No light shines like Your canticle sublime,
No truth excels the wisdom of Your bow’r.
Yea, thine eternal grandeur shall extend
Thy Word still pure, unchanging to the end.

Thy word is true from the beginning:
and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever” (Psalm 119:160).

For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:24-25).

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

Sunset Falling on a Bridge Along the Avon River

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:4-5).

Walking the footpath along the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario with my son

666,666 and The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown

This isn’t really some horrible warning about the end times, but it is the celebration of a personal mile-marker in my blogging journey: passing the 666,666 view mark and finding inspiration in The Boys in the Boat. It all started (Summer Setting) back in 2008, and it took four years before my posts had been viewed 100,000 times. In the next two years, by the end of 2014, Summer Setting had been viewed over 250,000 times. Over the next three years, that number doubled to over 500,000 times. About then, life seemed to speed up rather than slow down, and instead of posting daily, I found it maximally challenging to prepare just five times a week. The lesser output definitely affected the number of visitors, but this past weekend, I passed the 666,666 mile mark: two-thirds of a million views of my blog!

This number does not reflect those people who are “followers” and get my posts sent directly to their email inbox address, so it may be that Summer Setting has been viewed more than a million times already, but somewhere deep in my heart I keep feeling the desire to keep posting, at least until I’ve reached a million views. (I’d like to say “reached a million people,” but I have no way of figuring out how many “discreet” [different, unique] visitors are viewing Summer Setting.) That may take me until I’m 75, or it may take until I’m 90, or I may die before I ever reach that goal, but however long it takes, I will definitely keep trying until I become incapable or I believe the Lord wants me to do something else.

Boys rowing in preparation for the 1936 Olympics

Please don’t be critical of me for being a “numbers” person. Life is not about numbers, it’s about loving God and loving others. It’s about serving God and trying to reach out to others with the love of God in whatever way we can. Dreams and goals are only worth pursuing if they are God-inspired, for his glory and our good . . . or at least, that’s what I believe. Nevertheless, I think dreams and goals can be good for us. They challenge us to keep going when we’re just tired enough to want to quit, and they help us focus when the ubiquitous attractions and distractions all around us might otherwise derail us. (Or, should I say deboat us? 🙂 )

One perfect example of this is found in a book I just finished, The Boys in the Boat, which is a fabulous non-fiction account of the young men from Washington State who set their hearts on winning a gold metal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The book is powerful and inspirational. A movie version is in production right now, with Kenneth Branaugh directing, and I can hardly wait for it to come out!

The story was especially thrilling to me, because it is a story from my parents’ generation! In fact, my mother and uncle spent their summers working to help build the Hoover Dam during the same year several of these young men were there! (Well, my mother worked as a waitress, serving food to the guys who were hanging over the side of the cliff chipping away at granite with jack hammers.) It’s also a story of gut-wrenching difficulty to overcome human limitations in order to reach a worthy goal. My mom lived on skim milk and bread at times in order to survive college during the Great Depression. Goals are good. Hard work is good. Survival is good. Success is profoundly satisfying!

Have you heard about the Olympic runner, Eric Liddell (who won a gold metal at the 1924 summer Olympics in Paris)? God infuses us with abilities and gives us purpose. He also wants us to give everything we can muster to achieve “my utmost for His highest” (as Oswald Chambers wrote).

So, whatever abilities God has given us—whether it’s writing or rowing or running or something else—let’s use those gifts and give it everything we’ve got to accomplish whatever goal God puts in our hearts! Ready to race?!

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Happy Eleventh Anniversary, Summer Setting!

Life is beautiful.
It’s never what you expect,
But it’s still sublime.

Would you like to guess what I was trying to capture in this photo? Life never sits still for us, does it? Worse yet, we move even when we’re trying to hold still! Life is grander, more colorful, and more full of light and dark than we can begin to imagine. It makes me think of what I’ve been trying to accomplish with my blog these past eleven years. . . and even more, what God has been faithfully working to create in my life. I catch a vision, but it’s gone before I can even record it clearly. The funny thing is, the result can be more beautiful than what I was originally trying to capture! If your life seems messy, out of focus, and moving too fast, don’t despair! Give it to God. He can turn anything into something sublime.

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7-8).

Cec Murphy on Atalanta’s Excess Baggage

Ever since I listened to Cecil (Cec) Murphy speak at a writers’ conference about five years ago, I’ve been a fan, not just of his writing (which is excellent) but of his character and long life of fruitful ministry. He began with six years on the mission field in Kenya—about sixty years ago—and has never stopped working, even though he’s authored or co-authored more than 135 books and could be resting on his laurels (which would provide a very comfy cushion for sitting)!

Cec still puts out a weekly blog called Writer to Writer as well as a monthly newsletter. He is busy leaving as large a legacy to the glory of God as possible, and he’s definitely a mentor and inspiration to me.  I was particularly touched by his last newsletter so asked if I could share it with you. As always, he was gracious! Here it is:

Excess Baggage

As I stood in line at Delta’s baggage check-in, the agent said to the woman in front of me, “You’re nineteen pounds overweight. You’ll have to pay for the excess weight or take out some of the goods.”

The woman dropped out of line to repack and stuff items into her large purse.

As I watched, I thought of the excess luggage most of us carry—hurts, slights, betrayals, and rejections. We haven’t let them go, even though they weigh us down. For example, whenever someone mentions a person we haven’t forgiven, we feel a heaviness inside. Even anger.

Those thoughts reminded me of Greek mythology and Atalanta, the fleet-footed goddess. Her father, King Schoeneus, wanted her to marry, but she refused. Finally, she agreed to marry only if her suitor could outrun her in a footrace. If the challengers lost, they would be put to death. Many young men tried, lost the race—and their lives.

Hippomenes became the next suitor and asked the goddess Aphrodite for help. She gave him three golden apples.

The race began and Atalanta was soon twenty yards ahead. Hippomenes rolled one apple in front of her, and she stooped to pick it up. A little later, he rolled out the second and she grabbed it. And the third.

By then, Atalanta was so weighted down, Hippomenes passed her and won the race.

The story teaches us that we self-sabotage by holding on to “golden apples” of anger, resentment, and unforgiveness. They hinder by weighing us down in successfully running life’s race.

We know they’re there, and we know they hold us back. Even so, it’s not easy to cast off those hurt feelings and rejection. With God’s help and opening ourselves to individuals we trust, we can dispose of the things that weigh us down.For any of you who’d enjoy reading more, here’s the link to his blog: https://t.e2ma.net/message/yb7lv/yjxfi

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

Sharing our Poetic Hearts for National Poetry Month

So, I’ll start with a haiku that mourns the loss of my beloved dog, who has passed from this life. The thought came me as I was shooing the geese off our dock  …yet again! 😦  I don’t mind the geese claiming our yard as their nesting ground, but they have absolutely no sense of decorum concerning appropriate dock etiquette and care!

“Oh, Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?”   Geese are on our dock.   I will have to shoo them off.   Where did my dog go?

From earlier this April:

“Cast Away”   Dreams, like branches, fall.
Casualties of stormy springs.
Half buried in snow.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

The Lord gave this next poem to my friend…as she sat in silence during the early morning…lamenting the death of her beloved son:

“As I come downstairs early in the morning
You, O Lord, are waiting for me
You meet me in the darkness of the early morning
You meet me in the darkness of my life..my grief
As the light of day appears
Your WORD pours LIGHT into my heart
The LIGHT I need to face this day…..”
(—she prefers not sharing her name)
You, Lord are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light.
(2 Samuel 22:29)
“PEARL”
(by a dear friend since college days, Phyliss Hammerstrom)
Every poem begins
with some uncomfortable,
aching,
irritating grain,
around which I layer
word
after sibilant word,
encasing it with shimmering
veils of opalescence,
until its sharp edges are smooth,
until I can live with it.
–Then the knife
that digs the treasure out of my flesh!

Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: For he makes sore, and binds up: he wounds, and his hands make whole” (Job 5:17-18).

Carri Cassarino“Anxiety”
(by Carri Nelson Cassarino, September 20, 2017)

When anxiety was great within me,
Your consolation brought joy to my soul.
You say worry is against your kingdom,
So we must seek and must know.

Truly your best effort is to shield us from worry.
Your best hope is to keep solid for you and be in awe.
For the joy before us is your great joy,
And the way forward to trust your law.

For the glory of Him who loves us is His great and wonderful love,
We must ever trust him and give him our love,
For the way forward is to obey what He says.
And never seek our own way and be His beloved.

For the joy is found in obedience.
And the glory of Him for us is love.
For the hope He gives is eternal.
Then He will take what is His, above.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Offerings for NaPoMo (National Poetry Month)

Do you enjoy poetry? Write poems? Since 1996, April has been designated as National Poetry Month in America to celebrate and encourage the enjoyment of poetry. Usually I take the opportunity to write a few poems, but so far this spring I’ve not slowed down enough to allow literary creativity to send up any new shoots from my soul. Nevertheless, I’m a believer (in good poetry), so I’m going to share 10 quotes on poetry with 10 poetic photos from around my home in the hopes of inspiring us all to poetic endeavors, and if you write any lovely poems between now and then that you’d be willing to share, please add them in the comment box below or send them to me via email (or message me on FaceBook), and I’ll reserve April 30 for sharing what we create. Sound like a plan?

“Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.” Plutarch   “Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.” Carl Sandburg   “Always be a poet, even in prose.” Charles Baudelaire   “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings:
it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” William Wordsworth  “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought
and the thought has found words.” Robert Frost   “As to the pure mind all things are pure,
so to the poetic mind all things are poetical.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow   “A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out
in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times;
a dozen or two dozen times and he is great.” Randall Jerrell   “Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose-petal
down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.”  Don Marquis   “Why should poetry have to make sense?” Charlie Chaplin   “If you cannot be a poet, be the poem.” David CarradineAnd so, I’ll await with great expectations for any expression of emotion
mixed with bits of wisdom or puzzlement that blossom from our hearts.
May we all find some quiet time for reflection and meditation this spring! “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure” (Proverbs 4:26).

(As might be obvious, the last photo was not take around my home. 🙂  Rather, it’s from Meijer Garden, where “the butterflies are blooming” through April.)