I’m enjoying life for a few days here at the Conference Center in Green Lake, Wisconsin. It’s a work-related trip, but it involves a whole lot of beautiful scenes and personal relaxation. The outdoor sculpture at the entrance is both inviting and captivating. It depicts a handful of energetic children dancing in a circle, and there’s an empty spot for visitors to join in. What could be more joyful than kids at play?
They send forth their children as a flock; their little ones dance about. Job 21:11
That’s actually the meaning of the word “carol”—to dance in a circle. (We should try that at Christmastime.) The sculpture is brilliant because good art provokes participation and/or reflection, not just admiration.
It’s only right for people to dance in celebration at appropriate times in life; the entire universe is spinning in circles by design of the Creator. Whether we look through the microscope or peer through the telescope, we find that everything from planets to protons are twirling around with reckless abandon and delight. Animals join the party, too.
And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. Malachi 4:2b
The fact that I don’t dance well is irrelevant. I’m happy to help make others look good while I tour-jete like an amputated hippo or electric-slide like a lumbering baboon.
Anyway, the lake is stunning, the grounds are immaculate, and the atmosphere is peaceful. I would love to see this place in the fall. The seasonal colors are no doubt magical and intoxicating.
I really appreciate the respite right now because my proffing, preaching, pastoring, and dissertating load this fall will be unrealistic and unsustainable. Apart from the grace of God, it will be impossible to pull off. The schedule has never been this thick.
So, I’m dancing while I can—at least on the inside.
I found out this week that we’ll be having a grandson in December. His name is Samuel James. My heart is overjoyed.
Samuel comes from the Hebrew word שְׁמוּאֵל (shemu’el). It appears to be a combination of the root “to hear” (שׁמע, shm’) and “God” (אֵל, el). Taken this way, it means something like “heard by God.” In Scripture, Hannah named her son Samuel because God heard her prayer for a son (1 Sam 1:20).
James come from Ἰάκωβος (Iakōbos), the Greek form of the Hebrew name Jacob. James was a dear friend of my daughter and son-in-law’s who passed away when was only 18 years old. Just as our daughter’s middle name (Paula) reminds us of a college friend who’s now with the Lord, so our grandson’s middle name will remind us of a greater life beyond this life.
If I seem weepy to you these days, there’s good reason for it. I pray blessings over the child, and I can’t do so without tears.
May His favor be upon you And a thousand generations And your family and your children And their children, and their children
1. Well, my mother-in-law did it! She made the trip to Hickory, NC and back again, with only about four stops each way. After a lot of coaching, re-directing, and sign making, Lorena pressed on and did what few people thought she could do. She successfully attended part of the 2021 Taylor Family Reunion. Yes, she was confused by much of what was going on around her, but she did recognize her brothers and sisters when she got to speak to them. That alone was worth taking the trip. (Eleven of the 13 remaining siblings were able to attend this year; one has since passed away.) We’ve often said that Lorena is most like herself when she prays. Maybe that’s why she was asked to close the family worship service in prayer on Sunday morning. That was a precious moment. We usually stay for the whole week and participate in all the reunion activities, but this year we came back after a few days so as not to overwhelm her. There are a few snaps below, and we’re trusting our cousins to fill in the gaps for us. As always, my son Andrew is capturing the event on video.
2. Mercy. Grace. Covenant. Love. Hope. Those were the broad themes I spoke on last week at one of the camp meetings in our region. There was a wonderful response to the message each night, and on several occasions, the altar service lasted well over an hour with dozens of folks responding in prayer, gratitude, and/or repentance—just quietly singing, praying, hugging, and waiting on the Lord. Happily, the leaders were not being manipulative at all; they just said, “Come if you feel led, or pray with others in your seats, or leave quietly if you’d like. Just spend these moments with the Lord in whatever way the Spirit leads.” It was beautiful to watch the grace of God melting hearts and renewing hope. (The Apostle Paul reminds us that it’s the kindness of the Lord that leads to repentance, not the harshness of preachers and other believers.) I was especially moved by the willing response of the young people. Oh, and I may have “ugly cried” once or twice while singing Jenn Johnson’s “Goodness of God.” 🙂
3. Seldom does this sort of thing resonate with my spirit (because of its inherent potential for abuse), but a brother spoke a word over me on the final night I spoke at camp. He said, “While we were praying, God gave me a vision of you as a shiny trumpet, and God playing his sacred song through you, blowing his breath of life through your voice when you teach and preach. He’s using you to play his beautiful song of grace for many people, even as he continues to polish out any remaining discoloration in your own trumpet. There’s an accuser trying to call people’s attention to the discoloration rather than to God’s song and the polishing he continues to do for you. Don’t ever be discouraged by that accusing voice. Just keep letting God give the clarion call of his kingdom through you.” Alrighty, then. So be it.
4. My head and heart are exploding from all that I’m learning in my dissertation research. My working title (which will almost certainly change over the next several months) is: “Thresholds of Eternity: Tracing the Veil of Yahweh’s Sanctuary from Its Creation and Consecration to Its Destruction and Obsolescence in the New Age of Living Temples.” I estimate that I have about four more months of intense research, followed four months of principal writing, followed by two months of refining and defending. The only frustration is watching my workout schedule getting squeezed out. I have got to remedy that. Oh, and I’m going broke buying books for this venture. But I suppose that that’s not too terribly frustrating. After all, this fall we’ll be renovating the basement and creating a home library/podcast studio. If there’s any money left. 🙂
More from the 2021 Taylor Family Reunion (Hickory, NC)
• He was a Private in the 151st Pennsylvania Volunteers regiment.
• He came from a family of German coal miners who immigrated to the United States in the early 1800s.
• He was a blacksmith by trade, but he was also an excellent musician. He played the French horn, the violin, and the accordion.
• When the Civil War began, Michael enlisted. He was a 24-year old bachelor at the time.
• On the first day of the battle, July 1, 1863, the PA 151 was involved in the fight at McPherson’s Woods—where General Reynolds was killed by a sharpshooter.
• Michael Link’s unit saw their beloved leader carried from the battlefield that day, mortally wounded.
• A few hours later, Link himself was shot—right in the face. A bullet entered his left eye, went under the bridge of his nose, and then exited his right eye. The blow knocked him to the ground, leaving him unconscious for several hours.
• When he finally came to, he made the horrifying discovery: “One of my eyes had run out, and the other was hanging down my cheek.”
• “The last thing I remember seeing,” he said, “was the rebel flag, and I was shot just as I was leveling my gun to fire at the enemy.”
Michael’s hometown newspaper gave this account of his ordeal:
“There in that field, under the hot sun, with his eyes shot out, Private Link laid for two days. Initially he prayed for death to relieve his agony, but soon enough he found the strength to go on, even though he was sightless, delirious, and near death’s door. Rebel soldiers passed him, but they thought he was a corpse. His damaged eye sockets had been eaten away by maggots as he lay helplessly on the battlefield. Then on the third day some Boys in Blue came along. They heard Link’s groans and conveyed him to the field hospital.
“Weeks later, upon being discharged from a Philadelphia hospital, the former blacksmith returned to Reading. Undaunted by his disability, Link gained admission to an institution for the blind to obtain training and vocational skills. With his full pension of $72 per month, Michael built two 3-story brick homes on Penn Street. At one of these locations, he opened a shop where he cane-seated chairs. He never gave up, and he never quit. Instead, he entertained his friends by playing his music.”
Several years after the war, Michael got married to Margaret Krebs. Mike and Margaret had a baby girl by the name of Rosa. Here’s how the rest of the family tree unfolds:
Yes, Michael Link was my great-great grandfather.
Had he thrown in the towel on hope as he lay there on the battlefield, had he dropped out of life when recovery from those terrible wounds was long and hard—I wouldn’t be here today.
Do you see the importance of perseverance, of pressing on when you feel like giving up? Generations not yet born are affected by the decisions we make right now—whether to fight to the finish or to throw in the towel. I can’t help thinking of St. Paul’s final words to the church: “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race” (2 Timothy 4:7a).
Remember those maggots? The doctor told Link that the maggots had actually saved his life. Those disgusting, filthy maggots that made him want to give up—they had eaten away the infection that otherwise would have killed him.
Got any maggots in your life these days? Any nasty worms chewing on your heart? It might be a difficult person. It might be a family challenge. It might be a terrible situation. It might be a broken dream.
Could it be that those maggots are designed by a loving God to cleanse your soul of spiritual infections and conform you to the image of Christ?
Could it be that “what the maggots meant for evil, God meant for good” (cf. Gen 50:20)? Paul reminds us: “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Fighting to the finish—come what may—is our heritage.
May it be our legacy as well.
Image Credits: Some pictures from gettysburgpa.gov; others from personal collection.
Just a few life updates (and some pictures that caught my eye) before I get back to the tedium of research.
1. Happy birthday to my baby girl…who’s not a baby anymore! I recently raved about my kids on TNL, so I’ll spare you the schmaltz today. Bethany’s first act on the planet was to pee on the doctor (and after we got his bill, we were glad she did), so I texted her this morning: “Go find a doctor and pee on her…just for old time’s sake.” She works with several doctors right now and texted back, “I know a few doctors I wouldn’t mind peeing on!” And thus our weekend celebration begins. The main party is tomorrow, which is actually my late father’s birthday. I love being a dad.
2. The red and white petunias are doing o.k. Only a few of them didn’t make the transplant. I thought they would grow faster than they are, but that’s probably my impatiens coming out. (See what I did there? LOL.) The petunias in the hanging baskets are doing surprisingly well—much better than last year, but my Zenia’s are just “meh” right now. A little bit of dead-heading produced more buds, but their color is less brilliant than when I first planted them. I’m wondering if the mulch layer in the flower bed is too thick for them. Long story short, everything in the yard looks nice, but I don’t think we’re going to win any awards from BH&G this year. I’m not discouraged as much as I am distracted (per #3).
3. I knew the dissertation would feel like a full-time job, and it does. Alas, this one doesn’t pay! I’m now in the thick of my research, and it’s awfully tedious to pull together. Academic writing can be like that. I have enough material for a 450-pager, but I should be targeting about 275 to 300 pages. That will be a real challenge given my proclivity for pedantry and prolixity (of which this sentence is a case in point). I thoroughly love the project and the subject matter, but the time needed to do it well inflicts a bit of guilt whenever I’m not able to tend to other things. I’m told that I have that “far away” look in my eyes these days, even when I’m not reading and writing. That’s because I’m continually thinking about next steps in the process. I’m sure it’s an INTJ thing. The other downside is that getting immersed in the project has interfered with my workout schedule. Grrrrrr!!! After doing so well in the first quarter of 2021, I have to find a way to reboot again.
4. Sanity by way of diversion is maintained each night with a streaming binge. I hardly ever watch the news anymore (too depressing), or news analysis shows (too manipulative), or baseball games (too political), which leaves me with a small window to watch something with a storyline. I can now add to my previous binge list: “Halt and Catch Fire” (interesting), “The Hobbit” (classic), “Anne with an E” (adorable, though darker than the Megan Follows version), “Designated Survivor” (thrilling), and “Quantico” (intriguing). Right now, I’m in Season 1 of “House of Cards.” I’m still waiting for more from “Victoria,” “The Crown,” “Warrior Nun,” and “Stranger Things.” I’m assuming the COVID crisis interfered with a lot of production schedules. (As always, I skip the raunchy parts or entire episodes as necessary.) In any event, perhaps we love stories because we’re in the middle of the ultimate Story…and the ultimate Author is developing his characters in his own cosmic page turner. It’s interesting how the word “author” is so closely related to the word “authority.” Whoever we allow to author our own story is our true authority.
5. I am now a track mentor in our seminary’s Th.D. program. Specifically, I’ll be serving in the Next Generation Apologetics track. That means I’ll be taking a handful of students through their own doctoral journey in the coming years, on top of teaching the full cohorts in two of their five core course. Prayers will be appreciated for this new venture!
6. We’ve made the decision to try to get my mother-in-law to the triennial family reunion next month. That’s not going to be easy since it’s a 9-hour drive, and she doesn’t travel well. But given the progression of her disease, we think it may be the last time she will be able to meaningfully interact with her twelve remaining siblings and their families. Our plan is to stay two full days (instead of the whole week) and then come right back so as not to thoroughly disorient her. Yup, prayers appreciated for that challenge, too.
Thanks for stopping by. I hope you have a marvelous weekend!
What a glorious day it’s been. Mother’s Day usually gets more fanfare than Father’s Day, and rightly so. After all, as Jim Gaffigan says, “When you consider the male contribution to human life, it’s not very impressive.” God knew what he was doing when he gave women the travails of labor. We men never could have handled it. That’s why Mother’s Day gets top billing. Still, my kids made me feel like a million bucks this weekend. They even laughed at my dad jokes, which were especially bad this year.
First, my son came to our house Friday night for our usual movie and pizza night. He brought along gifts and treats that were deeply meaningful to me, and we started watching The Chosen together. Tissues may have been involved—not only because the production is fresh and alive with new angles and insights than most of the “screen Jesus” fare we’ve seen (hey, love the cinema, hate the sin), but also because Andrew is making a major life change this month. It’s a new journey for him, and it’s rooted in his desire to know Christ better and love him more.
He also called me today to wish me a happy Father’s Day, and we talked about his new adventure. He said, “I’ve never had this much confidence in the face of this much uncertainty.” I’m moved by his faith and dedication, and I couldn’t be prouder of him than I am right now. He’s the first blood relative I ever met, and I often remind him that he’s “my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”
Then, this morning, we had a beautiful worship service focusing on our “good, good Father.” It was a thrill to meet some new people today and hear their stories. After the service we gathered at my favorite Italian restaurant in the area with my daughter and her husband. They, too, shared wonderful cards and gifts that got me choked up. I even got a card from my future grandchild, along with a special gift from him or her. (The in utero child is the size of an avocado right now, which explains one of the gift tags below.)
Micah, who is celebrating his first Father’s Day this year (because being pro-life means he’s a father now), turned my Puddles the Popsicle post into a children’s book so that I could read it to the munchkin when he or she finally arrives. (The due date is December 2.) Opening that gift was a heart-stopping moment. And it made it easier to forgive them for getting me the card that came with it—the one with “Puffy” on the front.
Years ago I had a beautiful Pomeranian. Beautiful on the outside, that is. Inside, the little terror was demon possessed, and, alas, I don’t have the gift of exorcism. Our failed experiment in having a dog actually began with Bethany batting her eyelashes at me when she was little and saying in the cutest way possible, “Daddy, can we have a puppy? I’ll take care of it.” Uh huh. Right. And now she owns a cat. Smart lady. Bethany and Micah are serving the Lord, too, using the gifts and graces God has given them for his glory.
I am beyond blessed to be a father to these three wonderful kids. And I can say with the Apostle John, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4).
“May his favor be upon you / And a thousand generations / And your family and your children / And their children, and their children….”
Albert Einstein famously said, “Question everything,” but it was Jesus who practiced what Einstein preached. Contrary to popular assumptions, Jesus was not a robotic Answer Man; he was more like the Great Questioner. According the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), Jesus asks over 300 questions during his earthly ministry. Surprisingly, he answers only three. That’s quite a ratio, but it aligns with the m.o. of Yahweh in the Old Testament. God was known for asking his people lots of questions, too. Like Father like Son.
Now, if omniscience asks questions, it’s not to ellicit information; it’s to reveal it. In everyday life, our responses to the questions put to us have a way of exposing our hopes, fears, values, passions, and aspirations. They unveil our muddled thinking and our gaps in understanding. They demonstrate our innovation and creativity. They uncover our souls, for as Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).
Asking questions can unlock learning and enhance interpersonal bonding, provided they’re not impossible “gotcha” questions designed to intimidate or humiliate (e.g., “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”). Jesus doesn’t work for cable news. He works for his heavenly Father, who deeply desires a relationship with every human being, his highest order of creation. Since relationships by nature are dynamic and reciprocal, questions are part of the interaction between God and humanity. There’s give-and-take and back-and-forth—a rhythm of geneuine conversation allowing both parties to play the role of a subject, not merely an object.
Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K. John have noted, “The wellspring of all questions is wonder and curiosity and a capacity for delight. We pose and respond to queries in the belief that the magic of a conversation will produce a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Sustained personal engagement and motivation—in our lives as well as our work—require that we are always mindful of the transformative joy of asking and answering questions.”
God doesn’t ask questions because he needs to know. He asks questions to reveal and relate. Yes, we might have some questions for God in the life to come—who doesn’t?—but God has some questions for us in the life we have right now. Why not spend some time relating to him over some of the questions he’s already asked?
Questions God may ask us about our EMOTIONAL life.
“Why are you angry?” (Gen 4:6b)
“Why are you crying?” (John 20:15b)
“If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?” (Luke 12:26)
Questions God may ask us about our THOUGHT life.
“Have you never read the Scriptures?” (Matt 21:42a)
“Why are you thinking such things in your heart?” (Mark 2:8b)
“Do you not yet understand?” (Matt 16:8)
“Are even you likewise without understanding?” (Mark 7:18)
Questions God may ask us about our PHYSICAL life.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor 6:19a)
“Do you want to be well?” (John 5:6b)
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? (Isaiah 55:2)
“What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36a)
Questions God may ask us about our INTERPERSONAL life.
“What are you discussing as you walk along?” (Luke 24:17)
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man?” (Luke 10:36a)
“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8b)
“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matt 5:46)
Questions God may ask us about our SPIRITUAL life.
“Where are you?” (Gen 3:9)
“Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Gen 3:11b)
“Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen 18:14)
“What is your name?” (Gen 32:27a)
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I command?” (Luke 6:46)
“Do you love me?” (John 21:16)
Questions God may ask us about our MISSIONAL life.
“Whom shall I send?” (Isa 6:8b)
“What is that in your hand?” (Exod 4:2b)
“How many loaves do you have?” (Mark 8:5)
“Are there not twelve hours in a day?” (John 11:9)
“Do you see this woman?” (Luke 7:44b)
Maybe the most all-encompassing question God could ask us is this one: “Where have you come from, and where are you going?” (Gen 16:8b). Certainly the most important question he could ask was raised by his Son, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16:15). The two questions are actually related.
So, grab a cup of coffee, pull up a seat, and “have a little talk with Jesus,” as the old gospel song puts it.
I’ve been wondering for the past several years why the rose bushes in our backyard never flourish. Two days ago I got my answer. The neighborhood bunny thinks they’re a snack. Actually, we have a family of bunnies living under the massive holly tree across from our patio near the property line. These little fur balls are cute, but I’d like to remove their tastebuds during the spring and summer months.
Usually skittish at my approach, the puffy rascal just kept munching away as I walked toward it. Only at the last moment did it hop away, proud of its larceny and subsequent escape. I’ve since learned that rabbits can safely eat all parts of a rose bush, including the flower petals, stems, leaves, everything. The good news is they haven’t discovered the roses in my front yard.
The rest of our cultivation projects are doing well, including the zinnias, petunias, marigolds, and sundry bushes. Even the garden has started producing. The tomatoes will take another month or two, but the lettuce is ready to go now. I’d happily share some of that with the bunnies in exchange for keeping my roses.
1. Happy birthday to my mother-in-law, Lorena, who turned 83 a couple days ago. Family from North Carolina came to see her this past week, and more will be coming from Delaware this Memorial Day weekend. Nancy Reagan once described Alzheimer’s Disease as “a long goodbye.” I might add, “a long and sad goodbye.” Lorena is most like herself when she prays. That’s why we secretly hope she never says, “Amen.” Alas, all prayers conclude at some point, and the mundane tasks of life resume. Those tasks are now exceedingly difficult for her, but she can still experience the love and joy of family, even inside the fog of a mind devoid of all short-term memory.
2. National Conference was inspirational this year, in large measure because of the Grace Community Church (Willow Street, PA) worship team, led by David Julian and Alyssa Mayersky. This pair is Southeastern Pennyslvania’s answer to Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes. I’m so glad they use their incredible gifts for the glory of God. Note to Dave and Alyssa: When you sing Goodness of God and The Blessing back to back, it just leads to some “ugly crying” on the part of us delegates! 🙂 Keep up the great work; we appreciate it! (Thankfully, Alyssa has a YouTube channel.) Dr. Doug Buckwalter’s devotionals were also insightful, inspirational, and uplifting. What a blessing to be his student many years ago, and now his colleague on the seminary faculty. And, as always, Bishop Bruce Hill was the picture of competency, joy, and common sense.
3. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” So said the esteemed poet Maya Angelou. This week marks the anniversary of her death in 2014. Thankfully, Amanda Gorman is well on her way to reaching a similar stature that Angelou enjoyed. Political quibbles aside, I love her ability to capture a moment with energy, flair, and creativity.
4. I’m loving the meat smoker I got for Christmas in 2019. Applewood chips are the best for smoking chicken, which I think I’ve nailed—if I may so myself. Ha! 🙂 With my brother-in-law’s rub recipe, it’s the best way to prepare it by far. Alas, I’m still learning the best techniques for pork and beef. Those meats are a little harder to get just right. I guess I’ll just have to keep trying!
5. Life has apparently come full circle. I’m heading out soon to a dance recital for my daughter, who first tapped in public many years ago as Minnie Mouse. Today she’ll be a grown-up “Momma Mouse” of sorts. I’m hoping her flair for dance will help the little guy (or gal) inside her to inherit much better rhythm than I have. 🙂
6. Today’s weather reminded me that Enya sings a lot of songs about rain. One of these days I may compile them all into a single post. “Echoes in Rain” from Dark Sky Island is the one pulsating through my head right now. One reviewer describes the piece as featuring “a buoyant optimism due to the marching rhythmic ostinatos and pizzicato strings.” That’s an apt description—which is really saying something since most critics give us little more than piffle and perfidy when they’re deconstructing other people’s art.
7. Here’s a song that’s new to our congregation, based on a question from the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563. It’s called “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death” by Keith and Kristyn Getty, and Matt Papa. I’m loving it!
What is our hope in life and death? Christ alone, Christ alone What is our only confidence? That our souls to Him belong Who holds our days within His hand? What comes, apart from His command? And what will keep us to the end? The love of Christ, in which we stand
O sing Hallelujah! Our hope springs eternal O sing Hallelujah! Now and ever we confess Christ our hope in life and death
What truth can calm the troubled soul? God is good, God is good Where is His grace and goodness known? In our great Redeemer’s blood Who holds our faith when fears arise? Who stands above the stormy trial? Who sends the waves that bring us nigh Unto the shore, the rock of Christ
O sing Hallelujah! Our hope springs eternal O sing Hallelujah! Now and ever we confess Christ our hope in life and death
Unto the grave, what shall we sing? “Christ, He lives; Christ, He lives!” And what reward will heaven bring? Everlasting life with Him There we will rise to meet the Lord Then sin and death will be destroyed And we will feast in endless joy When Christ is ours forevermore
O sing Hallelujah! Our hope springs eternal O sing Hallelujah! Now and ever we confess Christ our hope in life and death
O sing Hallelujah! Our hope springs eternal O sing Hallelujah! Now and ever we confess Christ our hope in life and death
Have a blessed holiday weekend!
UPDATE: Bethany’s group did a tap dance routine to Aretha Franklin’s “Think.” It was a marvelous performance, even though it looked exhausting. The choreography called for heel clicks but no wings, which she really wanted to do. Watching her on stage brought back memories of past recitals, not to mention the emotions that go with them. (“Is this the little girl I carried? Sunrise, sunset….” Ha!) Anyway, the song is another example of why Aretha is the real Queen of Soul.
You need me (need me) And I need you (don’t you know?) Without each other there ain’t nothing either can do Yeah!
Today was mulching day at our house. Right before that it was trim-back-the-stems day for our numerous perennials (mostly tulips and daffodils), followed by weeding as much as possible before the placement of mulch. I wouldn’t say that my thumb is entirely green, yet, but I’m incredibly happy with how it all turned out.
The rose bushes have begun to flower.
The rhododendron bush has begun to pop.
The zinnias have adapted after transplant.
The petunias (most of them) are doing well.
The jacks in the pulpit are now free to spread out.
Alas, one of the azalea bushes needed to be removed because of disease. Additionally, the dogwood tree will probably need to be removed this fall. For the past three years we’ve been trying to nurse it back to health, but it seems to have run its course. A handful of petunias didn’t take root, either, so I’ll be replacing them next week.
The good news is that I’ll probably be getting my Japanese maple this fall, along with another dogwood tree and some new landscaping at the southwest corner of the house. I also saw some geraniums at the seminary golf tournament this past week, and they looked marvelous, so those cuties might have a future in our flowerbeds, too.
Growing up in a city row home never allowed for this kind of cultivation, but I’m digging it now. (Sorry, cheap pun intended.) Seriously, the beauty of creation is inspiring, and Pennsylvania seasons are the best.
Note: Here’s a personal journal entry from November 1999, with a bit of family news at the end.
How could I explain the sacrificial death of Jesus to a child? Rather than slogging through the theories of well-meaning theologians, here’s a simple story I told my seven-year-old daughter Bethany a few weeks ago. Nearly every night when I tuck her in, she asks me to either cuddle with her or tell her a bedtime story. I always give her the option of reading a story or making one up. On this particular night, she asked me to make one up. I wasn’t really prepared for that, so I sent up a quick S.O.S. to the Lord in prayer and asked him to help me communicate something that would draw Bethany closer to him. Here’s the gist of what came out.
Once upon a time in a place called Candy Land, there lived a family of four M&Ms. There was a red one, a blue one, a green one, and a yellow one. Two of them were the kind with a little nut inside. The other two were plain, but still delicious. Their names were Slippy, Drippy, Tippy, and Pippy. The Candy Maker who made them, loved them, and wanted to protect them, so he told them to stay out of the sun. “You will melt if you stay out in the sun,” he said. “In fact, you will die.”
But sure enough, the four M&Ms didn’t obey the Candy Maker. “We want adventure,” they said. “It’s a beautiful day outside, and we want to experience the sun in all of its warmth and beauty.” At first, nothing happened. They just got a little softer inside, but the hard candy shell kept everything hidden. “We’re o.k.,” they said. “Nothing’s going to happen. Besides, this is kinda fun!”
But over time, the M&Ms started feeling sick. Eventually, they totally melted on the inside, and they were about ready to die. They were scared and started calling out to the Candy Maker for help. “Please, Mr. Candy Maker, please, we need your help!”
And even though the Candy Maker was saddened by their behavior—and a bit angry that the M&Ms had disobeyed him—he loved them so much, he decided to help. With a firm commitment to the safety of his M&Ms, he sent his favorite treat from the candy shop to go rescue them, Puddles the Popsicle.
Puddles was a frozen, squeezy kind of Popsicle, the kind that comes in a plastic tube. Puddles loved the M&Ms just as much as the Candy Maker. In fact, Puddles was just like the Candy Maker in every way. They seemed to think alike about everything.
So Puddles the Popsicle came to where the M&Ms were lying in the heat, melting and suffering—about ready to die. And Puddles, in love, lay down beside the M&Ms, wrapping his frozen body around them to shield them from the sun. It sure was a hot day, but Puddles was able to transfer all his chill from himself to the M&Ms so that they could become firm and hard and safe again, just like before.
Sadly, however, in the process of saving the M&Ms from melting, Puddles himself started to melt. In fact, he completely thawed out and became nothing but a lifeless tube of popsicle juice. There, beneath the blazing rays of the mean old sun, the benevolent Puddles died for his friends.
This made the M&Ms very sad. Certainly, they were glad to be alive themselves, but they were now terribly sorry for not listening to the Candy Maker in the first place. But the Candy Maker was so pleased at the beautiful thing Puddles the Popsicle did for his M&M friends, that he blew some fluffy white clouds in front of the sun. And then he caused the temperature in Candy Land to drop quickly, all the way down to below freezing.
When that happened, Puddles the Popsicle became frozen again. He came back to life! And everybody was overjoyed. In fact, they were all so happy that they decided to get together once a week and celebrate what Puddles had done for them. Twice a year they especially celebrated, remembering with food, fun, and music the day Puddles came, and the day he came back to life again.
In time, Puddles went back to the candy shop to be with the Candy Maker. (They were so much alike, you just couldn’t keep them apart.) But he promised to come back again one day. In fact, he was such a wonderful Popsicle, it was like he had never left in the first place. And everybody in Candy Land lived happily ever after.
Not the labors of my hands / Can fulfill Thy laws’ demands Could my zeal no respite know / Could my tears forever flow All for sin could not atone / Thou must save and Thou alone.
Bethany got the point of this little story. I know she got the point because I asked her to draw a picture of what it meant. And she drew for me the four M&Ms and Puddles the Popsicle, and the blazing sun. And there in the middle of the page she drew a diagonal line, on the other side of which was a portrait of Jesus. My seven-year-old got the point. Do you?
I suppose I need to start brushing up on my storytelling abilities for children. In about six and a half months, Lord willing, Bethany is going to deliver her first M&M. I’m eager to meet the child. I’m even more eager for the child to meet Puddles the Popsicle.
“I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him [or her] to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:27-28a).
The magic of England never fades for the true Anglophile. I posted earlier this year on our trip to The Kilns: Where C. S. Lewis Lived and Wrote, but I didn’t include pictures of Holy Trinity Church in Oxford, where Lewis worshiped and is buried. At long last, here are those pictures.
Our tour guide was a good friend of Lewis’s back in the day. He was also a Royal Air Force Veteran of World War II, which gave us plenty to talk about. We thanked him for his bravery and service, but he said it was the United States’ entry into the war that saved the world from the evil Nazi delusion. He had wonderful “Jack” Lewis stories to share that don’t usually make their way into the biographies and textbooks.
Lewis died at the Kilns on November 22, 1963, the same day as Aldous Huxley and President John F. Kennedy. Few people attended the Lewis funeral because they didn’t know he had passed. His brother Warnie went on a bender to soothe his depression, rendering him incapable of spreading the word. Moreover, the print and radio news cycles were dominated that week by the assassination of the American President.
Lewis’ final years were happy ones. From charity and common literary interests grew a deep friendship with American poet and pen pal Joy Davidman. Her acquaintance with Lewis led to his underwriting the boarding school education of her sons David and Douglas. Eventually agape became eros for this charming if improbable couple, and they were married in 1956.
Joy was nearly 17 years Lewis’s junior, which only served to enrich the happiness of their marriage. Experience, enthusiasm, and an array of common interests combined to provide the needed chemistry. A savage case of cancer, however, cut short their life together. After several years of reprieve from an earlier and nearly fatal bout with cancer, Joy Lewis passed away on July 13, 1960.
Still, Joy’s entry into Jack’s life brought much happiness. As he wrote to one friend soon after their marriage, “It’s funny having at 59 the sort of happiness most men have in their twenties . . . ‘Thou hast kept the good wine till now.’ ”
Lewis is buried beside his brother (who lived ten more years) in the cemetery of Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry, Oxford. His letters and books, and the lives these writings touch, are his enduring legacy.
The gravestone for Lewis and his brother, Major Warren “Warnie” Lewis, reads, “Men must endure their going hence,” the Shakespeare quotation on their father’s calendar the day their mother died.
Mother’s Day is the calendar marker for planting annuals in the flower beds around our house, so I’ll be getting my hands dirty this week. We’re trying some new things this year, and we’ll see how it goes. Pictures of the real flowers will come later. The ones below are stock photos showing the ideal.
For the front and side flower beds, I got red and yellow Zinnias to plant, with a few lavenders poking through. They stand about 12” tall right now and supposedly do well in the sun. I chose them to match the color and vibrancy of the tulips, which I adored while they were here. Hopefully they’ll do just as well.
In front of the Zinnias will go the shorter red and white petunias. Last year’s impatiens didn’t do very well, so we’re giving these a try. The flowers are a bit larger than the imaptiens, so if they thrive, the beds will look nice when they emerge.
For the hanging baskets (4 on the front porch, 4 on the back patio, and 2 on my mother-in-law’s patio), we’re trying red, white, and purple wave petunias this year. It will take a while for them to start “waving,” but they’re much cheaper when you assemble the baskets yourself. I suppose it will be my lesson in patience this year. Alas, like Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka, “I want it now!”
My mother-in-law will also get a bed of yellow French marigolds. They are her favorites, and we think she may still have enough capacity to putter around and enjoy them this year.
Below are some unrelated pictures that recently caught my eye. The first is my summer home. 🙂 The second is my summer transportation. 🙂 And the third is a brain teaser. Can you tell what it is? (If you get stumped, turn your phone, tablet, or laptop upside down.)
Here’s a teeny life update with a few extras—for no other reason than that I need a brief diversion from proffing, pastoring, lawyering, dissertating, and websiting. Life is good; it’s just a little thick right now.
1. The brilliant petals on the tulips in our front yard have finally dropped. They lasted slightly longer than last year, but they’re naturally transient, so I had to bid them farewell. Fortunately, our azalea bushes are now popping. These flowering shrubs are admirably carrying the color torch passed on to them by the tulips. I dig ’em, even though they’re not my absolute favorite. I hope to get a Japanese maple some day, along with a replacement dogwood tree. I also love trees with white bark (see below). The grass in our neighborhood right now is a thick, lush, deep green. Heavenly.
2. I’m thoroughly enjoying my new Ford Edge. I finally learned how to use the display and all its apps. The moonroof is super cool, too. I’ve never had one of those. I can also open the hatch with my foot (as long as I have the key fob on me), which has come in handy several times already. It also closes at the touch of a button. Very convenient. My youth like to pile into it whenever we go for a McDonald’s run during Sunday school. But my cars haven’t always been on the newer side. When I was in high school, I drove a hideous 1973 Mercury Comet. Its color was indecipherable, but it was somewhere on the spectrum between Gulden’s mustard and burnt pumpkin pie. It had 4 doors and a brown vinyl top—a real chick magnet for a teenage boy. But, hey, it had a 302 engine. The only other car I had with that kind of pickup was a Mercury Grand Marquis with an 8-cylinder engine.
3. Our Keurig recently bit the dust, so I had to go get a new one. The upsides of the new unit are that (a) it wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be, and (b) I like this one even better; it has more cup sizes and a bigger water reservoir. It also looks more stylish. No, I’m not addicted to coffee. I just drink it for the protection of those around me in the morning.
4. Our bathroom renovation project is slowly coming to an end. The list of missteps and mishaps is too long to mention, but soon it will be fully operational. Fortunately, we have two others to use in the interim—which has lasted eight months now instead of one. And these are the professionals doing it! That’s not a bust on them; it would have taken me a decade to do it myself given what they were up against. The latest mishap was their knocking over the medicine cabinet and shattering one of its three glass doors. The good news is that everything they’ve actually done or installed so far looks amazing.
5. I preached the other week on Psalm 23, so I riffed on the cluelessness of sheep for a bit, underscoring why they (we) so desperately need a good shepherd. This brief video clip makes the point much better than I ever could.
6. This week’s song of the week at TNL, which I post every Monday, is Lauren Daigle and the Hillsong team singing “How Great Thou Art.” Lovely.
7. Charles Wesley’s “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” is required singing on Easter Sunday morning. Here’s a contemporary version with an added bridge. Not bad.
8. Here’s the best thing you’re likely to see all day. A group of special folks recite Psalm 139 for us. As someone who was unplanned, unwanted, and unloved from the day of my conception until the day of my adoption 22 months later, I have always been moved and encouraged by the words of King David in this beautiful psalm. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Before we ever had a place in this world, we had a place in God’s heart.” Amen.
9. It’s been a long time since I published a “Just between You and Meme” post. I’ve been collecting good stuff, but I haven’t had time to pull it together. So here are just a few clippings that recently made me chuckle. (I’ll save the really good stuff for later.)
10. I’ve been working out at the local YMCA lately (cardio, weights, and swimming). I figured that since we all have to wear masks while on site, the rescue dummy should have to wear one, too. So, yesterday I gave him mine to use while I was in the pool. He didn’t resist. (BTW, that’s my new Batman towel at the bottom of the one picture. My mother-in-law got it for me for my birthday. When I use it, I feel invincible. Haha!)
11. I spent two decades loathing the mainstream media, but I think The Babylon Bee has a better approach. Just mock them mercilessly. Loathing takes too much energy, and it’s all negative energy. Sheesh, why bother? Yes, the Bee crosses the line sometimes, but the national mainstream media try to play us every single day. They’re just contemptible.
12. Supremely encouraged by so many blessings in the last five years. Of course, it helps when your spouse’s kingdom gifts are not only recognized but compensated. The best part is being able to give more. Home renovations are an added benefit. I can’t help thinking of Jenn Johnson’s song, “Goodness of God.”
13. A former ICL student stopped by yesterday and expressed his appreciation for our ministry to him and also to enroll in seminary. He said thank you with Wilbur Buds. I wanted to say you’re welcome by eating them, but I’m trying to behave right now. Goals and all that. But how “sweet” of him to express his gratitude in that way. As my students have heard me say many times, “Chocolate is proof of God’s existence. Peanut butter is proof of his power. And the two together are proof of his goodness.”
May the Fourth be with you.
(And also with you. Hehe!)
Have a great week!
UPDATE: Mother’s Day is the time we usually plant impatiens in the front flower bed. Last year we did red and white, but the white ones didn’t do very well. We may try petunias this year. Any other suggestions?
Ralph Walderson Emerson once said, “The earth laughs in flowers.” If that’s true, then my front yard is howling with delight right now. I’m so thrilled with how our red and yellow tulips have flourished this year. I had to take some snaps earlier today since they don’t last very long. Fortunately, new and different blooms will come after the tulips have had their day.
Off to celebrate my son’s birthday. And pretend I can sing. (There’s something magical about a karaoke microphone, right?)