My mother passed away in May of 2016. I remember that following Christmas it was hard for me to feel the usual festive, holiday spirit and joy. For most of us, after all, our mothers were the ones who first introduced us to the joys and beauty of Christmas, and many of our fondest childhood memories are wrapped up in this season. I was struggling with trying to feel the joy, this particular Christmas, but I went ahead and decorated our home and our tree anyway; I knew my mother would want me to.
Once the tree was up and decorated, I noticed an empty spot that still needed an ornament, and the thought ran through my mind…Just like the empty spot in my heart. I looked through the boxes lying around on the floor, but no more ornaments were to be found. I went down to our basement to see if I might not find one more ornament stored in another bin. That’s when I came across the Christmas wreath that I had hung on my mother’s bedroom door. In the center of the wreath, I had hung an ornament. Appropriately, it was an ornament of the word “JOY.” Perfect. I went back to the tree and filled the empty spot with the ornament of joy. As I hung the ornament, I was reminded of our Savior who came into this dark world of sorrow and grief, to fill the empty places of our lives with JOY…and after all, wasn’t that what the celebration of Christmas was all about? The angel announced to the shepherds, “Behold, I bring you tidings of GREAT JOY!
The Psalmist wrote, “In your presence is fulness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11) I decided then and there, that if I indeed had the presence of God with me, then I shouldn’t be harboring grief and sorrow. He hadn’t left me. He had actually promised never to leave me or forsake me. There is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is temporary and fleeting, but JOY…well, it is beyond defining; you must allow yourself to experience it. If you allow the joy in, it will dispel the pain. The words joy and joyous are found 245 times in the Scriptures. The word rejoice shows up 150 times, and we’re instructed to be joyful and rejoice nearly 400 times! You can choose to be joyful regardless of your circumstances.
The year 2020 has proven to be rather challenging on many fronts. Consciously, or subconsciously, we have grieved through a pandemic, the unexpected loss of friends and loved ones, political turmoil, riots and unrest, lockdowns and shutdowns, economic distress, natural disasters, loss of personal freedoms, and the list goes on. in the midst of all of this trauma, however, I am reminded of the words of Habakkuk: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, YET…I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God my savior. (Habakkuk 3:17-18.)
Habakkuk understood the source of his joy, despite the circumstances surrounding him at the time that were rather bleak. This Christmas season, my hope is that you will choose joy…and that despite everything that has happened this year, you and your family will experience a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
The body heals with play, the mind heals with laughter, and the spirit heals with JOY. (A proverb)
My husband and I have three apple trees in our yard, here in Edelsfeld, Germany. It is now mid-November and two of the trees are well past producing their harvest. However, one of them refuses to quit. I believe it is the original version of “The Giving Tree.” It just keeps giving and giving and giving….
This afternoon I was gathering apples in my buckets once more…hundreds of them…or was it a thousand? It is this way every day. The neighbors now run from me when they see me coming, wanting to bless them with more apples. Truth is, these are the best tasting apples I’ve ever eaten in my life. They are red, sweet, crispy and juicy – unlike the tasteless, mushy ones sold at the grocery stores. We have truly been blessed with a bountiful harvest – a bumper crop. I stop and look up at the tree and notice the branches are still loaded, and I’m reminded of a Scripture verse found in the Song of Solomon 2:5 – Comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love. I’m afraid my version would read – Comfort me with love, for I am sick of apples.
All jesting aside, every time I gather up these apples, I am reminded of the abundant blessings that have been poured out on my life. I know there are many people in the world who are starving for even a morsel of food, and would love to sink their teeth into one of these beauties. I think of the story of the young North Korean girl who scrounged for her food and managed to stay alive by eating field mice. My mother became a widow when my brother and I were quite young, and I remember some hard times, but I can honestly say I don’t ever remember going to bed hungry, or not having a warm bed in which to sleep.
I climb up to our balcony to get a birds-eye-view of our tree and see how many more apples might be coming. There are so many still clinging, I can’t even count them, and I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness…His blessings are too numerous to count…just like my thousand apples. Oh, I haven’t counted them – just an estimate! Some time ago, I decided to keep a gratitude journal and write one thousand things for which I was grateful. I’m now at number 912. I know once I reach one thousand, I will start over on the next thousand.
I look past our tree to the hills that surround our valley and I think back to a time when this village was not quite so peaceful, and people went to bed in blackouts and shivered in fear as the bombs dropped. A memorial plaque stands in front of one of the town churches, honoring lost sons of the war. And that is another one of my thousand blessings: not once have I ever gone to sleep at night in fear for my life. I’ve known nothing but peace in my life. How many people in the world can say that?
Is that why the original owners planted three apple trees, a black-bing cherry tree, a walnut tree and blackberry bushes? Was it this harvest that sustained them during the war years? I am left to wonder. And on and on it goes….counting my blessings. Then I think about another tree…
You see, the original “Giving Tree” was actually planted on a hill called Calvary, and every good and perfect gift flows from that tree. That tree shows us the WAY…the way through the wilderness we sometimes find ourselves in; the way through the darkness into the light; the way home when we are lost. The fruit of that tree is TRUTH that binds itself around our hearts and our minds and protects us from the chaos, evil and deceit that surrounds us in this present world. That tree gives, nourishes and sustains our very LIFE – a life that is eternal. I hope you have this tree planted in your garden – I do and I gather its fruit every day, and I’m always amazed at the abundance of sweetness and goodness. My buckets are overflowing! This tree just keeps giving and giving and giving…it never stops!
So, these are some of my reflections about Thanksgiving and just a few things I am truly grateful for, but it all started with one thousand apples!
My husband Steve and I recently toured the Borowski Art in Glass Workshop in Boleslawieck, Poland. It is very different from any other glass blowing we’ve ever seen in that the glass creations are very contemporary with a fun, whimsical twist. All the sculptures tell stories about particular situations that often translate into comical compositions and characters. The workshop is located in a remodeled, century-old building.
This is a family run shop owned and operated by Mr. Stanislaw Borowski and his sons, Pawet, Wiktor and Stani Jan. We had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Borowski and Pawet during our tour.
Borowski glass gained international recognition in the 1970s with Stanislaw’s engravings and sculptures. There is a photo in the shop featuring the presentation of a Borowski glass sculpture to President Jimmy Carter.
Mr. Borowski opened his first small shop in 1990, and it now ranks as one of the most acclaimed art glass studios in the world, with appearances in many international exhibits.
During our weekend visit to Poland, we noticed that the soil is very sandy. The Borowskis use a secret formula for their glass making, but I’m sure the native sandy soil of Poland is probably the foundational element.
In an online interview, Mr. Borowski described his difficult, early years of working with glass. His studio was inadequate, cold and icy. He didn’t have proper tools, and had to seek permission to use a diamond saw.
His creations are rooted in childhood fantasies. His early pieces were small, and he described them as tiny children he had to raise himself, and then give them up.
“There are some of my pieces on display in galleries around the world that I would love to be able to buy back, or steal…but I had to sell them to make a living.”
“Every step of the way was about gathering knowledge and climbing a ladder.”
“My work gives me inner satisfaction. It makes me feel complete, like I have accomplished something”
“It’s up to the public to decide what’s good and what’s bad. ‘Yes, I like that very much,’ or ‘No. I wouldn’t want that in my home.’”
“All artists need to listen carefully.”
“I’m not a painter. So I have to remember what I see.”
“What about the people? They’re still in pieces. What’s the plan? It’s a piece of architecture”
“When someone asks me what’s the most important medium for my creative work, I always answer “Light!” – Stani Jan Borowski
Steve and I were given a special demonstration of some glass blowing. This particular session was the design of a small, whimsical whale. We ended up purchasing one of these whales as a souvenir.
There is a shop where you can purchase some of these amazing creations, from the smallest pieces to rather large indoor and outdoor sculptures, and there is a garden area that features wooden, clay, metal and glass exhibits of some outdoor sculptures.
All in all, this was an amazing tour, the highlight of which was getting to meet Mr. Borowski and his son Pawet.
First impressions are an intriguing part of life, whether you are experiencing new places or meeting new people. My first impression upon moving to Edelsfeld, Germany was that the residents of our village were not only gardeners, but AVID gardeners who took great pride in their plots of land. Even though my arrival came in early November, when most trees, shrubs and flowers had ceased their growing and blooming, my walks around town and seeing all the neatly cleaned out garden plots assured me that we would be in for a feast for the eyes come spring and summer, and we were not disappointed.
Another first impression was to discover that the German people are genuinely kind and friendly. Being new to this country and to the German language and culture, my husband, Steve, and I were amazingly blessed to meet Emma, a neighbor who lives just a few blocks away. Emma invited us to her Christmas party, sight unseen, based on an email I sent her asking if she would be interested in tutoring us in German. (This connection came about through a “chance conversation” with a total stranger.) We have been in Germany less than a year now, but already Emma has become a dear friend. We have enjoyed dinners, tea, hikes, shopping, plays and concerts together. Steve and I are especially fond of playing with her dog, Ila. Walks with Emma and Ila are not only a pleasure, but a learning experience as she shares her knowledge of native plants, culture and history.
Shortly after arriving in Germany, I came across the book “Elizabeth and Her German Garden,” by Elizabeth von Arnim, written in 1898. This book reaffirmed my first impression about Germans – they LOVE their gardens! More about Elizabeth later, but that’s where I got the inspiration for this particular blog. I really wanted to document Emma’s amazing garden. Emma was the daughter of farmers, born and raised here in Bavaria, in the little village of Holnstein, a few miles down the road. Her grandparents were also farmers, so hard work and a love for working the soil came naturally to her. Growing up she shared in the farm chores, helping with the cows, chickens and pigs, bailing hay and harvesting potatoes. Once she was finished in her family’s potato field, she would jump on her bike and ride off to her grandparents’ farm to help dig for potatoes in their fields.
Emma married and raised three sons here in Edelsfeld, where she and her husband built their home in 1978. Her father did all the woodwork inside the home, as well as building the framework for the roof. The home is surrounded by a garden, and yard complete with goldfish pond. So…here we go! Come along and have a tour of Emma’s German garden!
We begin by walking out the kitchen door and past the patio table and chairs. Germans, as I believe is true of most people, enjoy eating and relaxing outdoors. Emma picks a plum off one of her trees, carefully removes the pit, and feeds it to Ila, who is following us around. Amazingly, Ila loves plums so much that she literally jumps up and snatches the plums off the lower branches of the tree, eating pit and all.
Fruit is a staple in most German gardens, as well as vegetables; a carryover from the days not so long ago when people couldn’t afford to buy their produce. If you couldn’t raise your own, it meant going hungry. Besides plum, there is an apple and black bing cherry tree. I must add, every once in awhile our doorbell rings and we are presented with some warm apple fritters, or a slice of cherry or strawberry cake. Emma’s strawberries were some of the sweetest I’ve ever eaten! She grows blackberries, as well. Emma also harvests walnuts from her tree which she uses in baking Christmas cookies, and making caramelized nuts for salad dressing. Next to the trees is a large, open grassy area where her sons’ pony used to graze years ago.
Emma cooks and bakes with everything in her garden, which leads us to the vegetables…tomatoes, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, green onions, spinach, beet roots, carrots, curry herb, rapunzel, rosemary, fennel, parsley, chives, thyme, and lemon grass.
And what German garden would be complete without flowers? Emma’s flowers are scattered around and in-between all the fruits and vegetables. I’m particularly drawn to the hollyhocks and she shares a humorous story from a friend of hers in Montana. The story goes that in the old days of “outhouses” it was customary to plant hollyhocks around them. That way when ladies came to visit, they could politely and discreetly ask where the bathroom was by asking, “Have you planted any hollyhocks?”
Wildflowers bloom in every corner, and Emma is quick to remind me that they are important for the bees; even the early spring dandelions are considered important for this reason. The dandelion leaves are used as salad greens, even in some of the nicer restaurants. Emma points out a yellow cone flower which is called a “sun hat” because of its shape. It is considered a healing plant. All the pharmacies have the drops from this flower available to help boost the immune system and it is used in ointments, as well. Another one of her flowers used in medications, creams and ointments is her calendula.
Other flowers around the garden include tiger lilies, chrysanthemum, anemone, daisies, iris, hydrangeas, sunflowers, morning glories and an interesting blue flower called “widow in the green.” A large patch of lavender is planted next to the roses to protect them from bugs. Tucked along a sidewall is a patch of thistle which is dried and used in flower arrangements. One other flower I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before is a lavender poppy. Emma reminds me that poppies are native to Afghanistan, and of course the pods contain opium which has had a thriving market in that country for years. However, the seeds from the poppy can also be used for a cooking oil, bread rolls and baking cakes. The more common orange colored poppy Emma refers to as the “Iceland Poppy” as it is one of the few flowers found in Iceland.
I should mention, that Emma collects rain water for her garden, which I have found is quite a common practice with German gardeners. And so ends our tour of Emma’s garden. As I make my way back into the house through the kitchen, I am offered some freshly baked plum cake. To begin with, I am amazed that Emma still finds the time (and energy) to bake, after all of her gardening chores. I find her to be an extraordinary person and a delight to be with. She is a busy mother and grandmother, with some new grandbabies to visit; she is a High School teacher who teaches German, English and Math, and tutors the likes of Americans like Steve and me; she is an avid hiker and walks her dog every day, as well as walking her invalid neighbor’s dog.
She is the author of a children’s book that she illustrated with her own watercolor paintings, and is getting ready to publish her second book; she makes an effort to get to the horse barn several times a week to spend time with her Arabian, Mitrano; she is also a member of a local book club. I have to wonder…where does she find the time to read?
Emma exemplifies to me the “true German spirit”… appreciative of her heritage, industrious, hard-working, organized, friendly and supportive, and a great lover of her garden and nature. Steve and I feel blessed to have her as a neighbor and friend.
And now this brings me back to my original inspiration for this blog, the book “Elizabeth and Her German Garden.” This was a fun and relaxing book to read, but I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone, unless you enjoy reading long passages and descriptions of flowers and the joys and trials of gardening. I did find parts of it rather humorous as the author has a sharp wit, but basically it is a plotless book. The beautiful, descriptive language though, makes it a delightful read, and you’re certainly left with an appreciation for the German’s love of gardening and nature. It is also an interesting commentary on society in the Victorian age. It’s a fun book to read if you’re sitting out in your garden patio with a cold ice tea, which come to think of it…is probably where you need to be if you’re reading this blog!
Following are a few more photos of Emma’s garden, and some quotes from “Elizabeth and Her German Garden.”
My days seemed to melt away in a dream of pink and purple peace.
The people round about are persuaded that I am, to put it as kindly as possible, exceedingly eccentric, for the news has traveled that I spend the day out of doors with a book, and that no mortal eye has ever seen me sew or cook.
If it were not for the garden, a German Sunday would be a terrible day.
The servants wonder why the house should be filled with flowers for one woman by herself, and I long more and more for a kindred spirit. It seems so greedy to have so much loveliness to oneself – but kindred spirits are so very, very rare; I might almost as well cry for the moon. It is true that my garden is full of friends, only – they are dumb.
Humility, and the most patient perseverance, seem almost as necessary to gardening as rain and sunshine, and every failure must be used as a stepping-stone to something better.
If Eve had had a spade in paradise and known what to do with it, we should not have had all that sad business of the apple.
It is so sweet to be sad when one has nothing to be sad about.
I felt so absolutely happy, and blessed, and thankful, and grateful, that I really cannot describe it.
Castle ruins are common in Germany. You can find them on just about every other high hill. However, my husband Steve and I recently explored one that holds special significance. The castle ruins in Flossenburg, Germany border the Czech Republic, and stand as a sentinel over the infamous Flossenburg concentration camp.
After a steep, rocky climb to reach the top of the hill, you then continue your trek over narrow granite steps to reach the summit of the castle itself. The residential tower on top of the granite rock, equipped with a fireplace, was located around 1100. In the Middle Ages the tower was rebuilt. These castles were always built on the pinnacle of a hill for security purposes and were the residence of the local town sheriff, or knight, who was employed to guard the surrounding villages. The walls of the castle were built with granite from the quarry located hundreds of feet below.
Upon arriving at the summit, there is an amazing view of the valley below and the town of Flossenburg itself, with its charming homes. There is a quietness that rests over the village, with the occasional ringing of church bells. Who could ever imagine that horrific atrocities against man had ever been committed in such a peaceful setting.
At the beginning of our trek, my first observation and comment to my husband was that we were being followed by “my white butterfly.” He’s used to hearing this from me, no matter where we go. It just so happens that I have been followed by white butterflies for years. He turned to me and commented, “You DO understand that it’s NOT your same butterfly that follows you everywhere!”
“Of course it isn’t,” I assured him…but who knows…maybe it is.
We continued to explore the surrounding ruins and came upon an arch. Steve was quick to point out the keystone.
After some exploration we made our descent into the valley…entering later into the “valley of death.” It’s hard to comprehend that such an idyllic, peaceful village was once
the location of a notorious Nazi concentration camp.
A short time later we made our way through the gates of the Flossenburg Concentration camp. The camp at Flossenburg was opened at the beginning of May 1938; its first prisoners were brought from Dachau. Many of these were political prisoners and hardened criminals. Later, they were joined by thousands of Jews. The violent criminals were often goaded to torment the other prisoners.The roll call ground formed the center of the camp. Every morning and evening the prisoners were counted here. Standing at attention, often for hours, meant an additional torture for the undernourished and inadequately clothed prisoners. A gallows was erected on the roll call ground so that executions could be carried out in front of all other prisoners.
One of the main reasons for the choice of Flossenburg for a camp was the significant granite deposits in the area. The aim was to make maximum use of prisoners’ slave labor to dig granite from the quarry to arm Nazi Germany. The stone they quarried was used to build many of the Nazi’s monumental buildings.
“In the evening, on the return march, each of us had to carry down an enormous roll-stone on our shoulders, because these stones were used to surface the camp yard. My shoulder was bloodied and my jacket was torn open because these sharp-edged stones had been chiseled out of the rocks.” (Quote from a prisoner)
“All day long, we had to drag up boulders of rock, throw them down again, and then drag them back up. If there was frost overnight, then water was poured over the stairs. The next day, we had to drag the rocks up over the slippery ice. It was horrible.” – Frantisek Sulak January 26, 1945
“Although, I left Flossenburg as soon as I could, Flossenburg never left me. For us, former inmates, the events of our past became the foundation of our haunted lives.” – Jack Terry
(Photos and commentary are from the small museum located on site.)
Inadequately clothed and lacking all safety precautions, the prisoners were compelled, no matter the weather, to excavate soil, carry out blasting of granite blocks, push trolley wagons, and haul rocks. Accidents were daily and routine events. Backbreaking labor, long work hours, freezing cold, severe malnutrition, and random SS violence led to the death of many prisoners. A work day in the quarry lasted twelve hours, interrupted only by a single break when a thin soup was served. The SS forced prisoners to walk in circles for hours, hauling rocks. Only a few prisoners survived. At the end of the work day, the prisoners carried the bodies of the dead back to the camp.
After touring the museum, we walked to the back of the camp, still followed by “a white butterfly!” I noticed there were a few carefully planted flowers, but the grounds were mainly covered by wildflowers…which seemed to me a silent memorial from the hand of God, himself. From a distance, we could see the surrounding guard towers.
An initiative by a Polish memorial committee led to the establishment of one of Europe’s first concentration camp memorials. This memorial site was laid out to resemble a Christian Stations of the Cross. The entrance is located above the crematorium. The pillars of the camp gate were moved there to to represent the beginning of the prisoners’ suffering. This path leads through the hollow called the “Valley of Death,” past the stations of the execution site and “Pyramid of Ashes.”
Throughout this walk you could feel a “holy awe” and I just fought back the tears. Those visiting the camp spoke in hushed voices. I couldn’t bear to take a picture of the ovens. It just seemed too sacred to be trivialized with a camera. On our walk back out of this sad valley, Steve and I were pleasantly surprised to find this memorial plaque on one of the walls:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who refused to pledge allegiance to the Nazi cause. He is most well remembered for his book “The Cost of Discipleship.” At the break of dawn on April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged. As they prepared him for his death, he preached his final sermon. His words were remembered, and later retold, by a captured RAF pilot: “This is for me the end, the beginning of life.” Only two weeks later, April 23, 1945, Flossenburg camp was liberated by the American Army.
The following quotes are all from Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The exclusion of the weak and insignificant, the seemingly useless people, from a Christian community may actually mean the exclusion of Christ; in the poor brother – Christ is knocking at the door.
When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.
The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them just as love of God begins with listening to his Word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them.
The biggest mistake you can make in your life is to be always afraid of making a mistake.
We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.
Silence in the face of evil is evil itself.
The person who’s in love with their vision of community will destroy community. But the person who loves the people around them will create community everywhere they go.
So…according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the “keystone” for preserving community is love. Without this keystone, the arch of community and society will collapse! Jesus Christ summed it up in the two great laws: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31 ) When I look at this photo, I see one half of the arch as the first commandment and the other half as the second commandment, and the “keystone” is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who holds it all together, and upholds life itself!
I am very grateful to the nation of Germany for preserving these concentration camps and memorials as a reminder to us all of the importance of loving our God and loving, serving and caring for our fellow man. There is wisdom in learning from history.
By the way, the white butterfly followed us all day. Was it the same one? Who knows.
Recently I found myself reading quotes from some rather famous personalities regarding their lack of belief in God. To quote a few, following are some excerpts:
There doesn’t need to be a God for me. There’s something in people that’s spiritual, that’s godlike. I don’t feel like doing things just because people say things, but I also don’t really know if it’s better to just not believe in anything, either. – Angelina Jolie
When I got untethered from the comfort of religion, it wasn’t a loss of faith for me, it was a discovery of self. There’s a peace in understanding that I have only one life, here and now, and I’m responsible. – Brad Pitt
Organized religions in general, in my opinion, are dying forms. There are people who interpret the Bible literally. Literally! I choose not to believe that’s the way. – Bruce Willis
A few other well-known atheist film stars include Katherine Hepburn and Daniel Radcliffe, of Harry Potter fame. This is only a small, partial list. What is it, one wonders, that makes the rich and famous so prone to atheism, but, that is a topic for another day.
John Lennon penned the lines of this famous song:
Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try
No hell below us, above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today.
Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion, too..
Imagine all the people, living life in peace.
The telling line in this song is “imagine all the people living for today.” Brad Pitt seems to echo that sentiment…”I have only one life, here and now.” But what if there is more to life than just the here and now? What if life is truly never ending, and there is such a thing as eternity, and you squandered all your wealth, talents and energy on only 70 to 80 years of it? Jesus poses the question this way,
“What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
Jesus also shared the story of the rich fool who had accumulated so much in the way of crops and produce, his barns were too small to contain it all. He boastfully bragged that he would build a bigger barn to store all of his excess, that he might spend the rest of his years in ease and comfort and just sit back, eat, drink and be merry…enjoy life. The only problem with this plan was, that very night God required his soul of him. All the accumulation of his wealth was left to someone else. The larger, looming question was, what reward did he have awaiting him?
George Clooney was quoted as saying, “I don’t believe in heaven and hell. I don’t know if I believe in God. All I know is that as an individual, I won’t allow this life – the only thing I know to exist – to be wasted.” Once again, we see the emphasis on THIS LIFE, but what about the next? He claims he “doesn’t know.” At least he’s honest enough to admit he’s not sure.
So, why take a chance?
Bertrand Russell, the famous atheist, mathematician, pacifist and political activist (1872-1970), was once interviewed and asked what he would say when confronted with the Almighty. His response? …
“Sir, why did you not give me better evidence?”
As a side note, I find it interesting that, although he did not believe in God, he had a question prepared for Him. I don’t have to imagine God’s response as He has already addressed this question in the Holy Scriptures. Let’s take a look:
King David clearly recognized the evidence of God in the natural world around him: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4)
The Apostle Paul wrote: “Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”(Romans 1:20)
If you’ve ever looked up at the stars on a clear night and not felt a hushed and reverent Presence of the Almighty, you, my friend, have a hardened heart. Have you never walked an ocean shore, admired the beauty of a sunset, heard the thundering crash of the waves and not felt a deep stirring in your soul? Have you never wondered who set the boundaries for the ocean, and a million other questions?
I’ve always enjoyed beach combing and looking for shells. I remember one time that I chanced on a sizeable pile of shells against a sea wall that had been washed up by the tide. I sat down and combed through the shells for over an hour, totally entranced. I was in awe at the intricacies of design and color. There were perfect cone-shaped spirals of translucent white; shells with red, brown and yellow Indian blanket designs; other shells with every color of a tropical sunset. I had hit the jackpot! I was wishing I could bring in a backhoe and a truck. I left with a small bag of treasures that I still display in a jar to this day. I will never forget thinking this pile of magnificent shells, of such amazing artistry was hidden under an ocean of water, never seen by human eyes before mine…. God had treated me to a private peek into His art studio just for my own personal joy and pleasure. I walked away with such a sense of the love and Presence of God. How could anyone not believe, I wondered?
Even the sand beneath my feet was the exquisite work of an artistic hand. Miriam Drennan describes this phenomenon well:
“Have you ever seen photographs of individual grains of sand blown up 250 times their actual size? Some grains look like red gem stones, others look like icicles; some resemble speckled yellow and brown eggs, and still others seem shaped like corncobs, snowflakes and precious gems. Some grains are square, some spherical, and some flat. No two grains are the same – in fact, you’d never know you were even looking at grains of sand if no one told you.”
That kind of artistry is humanly unfathomable. It resides in the realm of the supernatural; the same supernatural force that scattered the stars through the heavens and hung the Milky Way.
Thousands upon thousands of books, poems and songs have been written about the glory of God as seen in nature. Man truly is inexcusable.
Albert Einstein once stated, “I do not believe in a personal God, and I have never denied this, but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious, then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. “
Yes, even Albert Einstein left a big, gaping IF….the structure of the world was something he admitted he had to admire. Can one admire such structure and beauty and still believe it all came about through sheer happenstance?
Yes, I choose to believe in God because of the evidence I’ve seen with my own eyes of that which He has created. It’s overwhelming. It’s incontrovertible. Is this the only reason I believe? No, but it is one very big reason!
“They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Your signs; You make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy.” Psalm 65:8 (NASB)
Just count me as one who stands in awe of His signs…one who stands in awe of a pile of seashells.
This morning I woke up at 2:15 A.M. Wide awake. That’s been happening a lot lately. I find it interesting that it’s always at the same time. It used to be 3:30. There are times when I realize I ate too much pizza for supper the night before and that I just need to go back to sleep. Other times, like last night, I’m aware there is a Presence, and a Voice of someone wanting to speak to me, and that I need to listen carefully. Now, before some of you get too spooked out…yes, I am one of those who believes God can speak to you. He could speak in an audible voice if He chose to, as He did in Biblical times with Adam and Eve; with Moses on the mount; with Saul of Tarsus who was knocked to the ground and blinded (to try to get his attention.) Elijah was an Old Testament prophet that heard the voice of God. He was told to go stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, and the Lord would pass by. “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a GENTLE WHISPER. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” 1 Kings 19:11-13
More often than not, God now communicates with His children in quiet whispers of the heart, which means you have to be so very, very quiet to hear Him. Maybe that’s why He wakes you up in the middle of the night when there are no distracting lights, no blaring TV or radio, no internet, or a million other weapons of mass distraction. So…you wonder…what did I hear when I was awakened at 2:15 A.M.? From this gentle whisper in my heart I heard the words: JESUS…AT THE CENTER OF THE STORM. The words were so distinct, it was almost as if I had heard them audibly. From this point on I was wide awake, and it seemed as if I was watching a full feature movie playing out various scenes in front of me. When a woman wakes up, wide awake, in the middle of the night, let me tell you – the brain is not quiet. Sometimes I find it quite amusing to see where my mind takes me. At other times, I find it not so amusing, and just wish I could go back to sleep.
Before I go any further, I must warn you…for those who don’t understand how a woman’s mind works. A man compartmentalizes everything neatly in a box. If you were to illustrate a man’s mind you could simply draw a box and place a dot in the center. A woman’s mind, on the other hand, could be illustrated with a box of spilled spaghetti. As I lay awake, contemplating the whisper of my heart, the movie lines played and interwove with each other, like an upended bowl of tangled spaghetti. The first scene that played out was the famous painting “Peace in the Midst of the Storm” by Jack Dawson. This painting depicts a small bird who has found shelter in the cleft of the rock, while a storm is raging. Hidden in the jagged cliffs outside are two images; one of Christ and the other a more sinister looking creature.
Meditating on this scene, the bowl of spaghetti kept filling my box. The next scene to appear was a group of elementary children who had been moved to a hallway for protection from a violent storm. I had remembered seeing this story play out in the news. I heard a group of teachers leading their students in the song “In the Eye of the Storm.”
In the eye of the storm, you remain in control,
In the middle of the war, you guard my soul.
You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn,
Your love surrounds me, in the eye of the storm…
I find my peace in Jesus’ Name.
I was reminded of the storm chasers who fly their planes through hurricanes as they chart their path. It is so amazing to see them fly through the eye of the storm where there are blue skies, sunshine, and perfect calm.
As this song faded away, I saw the scene of a man and his dog on a sail boat. I remembered reading this true story years ago. They had started out for a day of sailing under sunny skies, when the weather began to turn. As the man changed his course to head back home, the wind picked up and the waves began to toss violently. He feared for his life and the life of his dog. In his panic, he briefly looked down at his dog and was amazed to see perfect peace and love in his eyes. He was not the least bit stressed or agitated. He was just keeping his gaze focused on his master. The man began praying and asking God to forgive him. “My dog has more faith in me, than I have in you,” he confessed. “Help me keep my eyes on you!” The story had a happy ending, and the man learned a lesson in faith that day, from his dog.
The focus of the action then shifted to a similar scene. It was the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus and His disciples were caught in a violent storm in their small boat. Here, too, the disciples feared for their lives. In their panic, they awakened their Master. Jesus spoke to the storm, “Peace, be still,” and immediately the waves calmed. Jesus couldn’t understand why the disciples were so afraid, and rebuked them for their lack of faith.
At this point my mind was beginning to calm and I was beginning to feel drowsy again, but not before two verses of Scripture appeared on the screen:
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26::3…
and with this one, I turned over and went back to sleep…
I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O lord, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8
So, I don’t know if there’s anyone out there that needs to be encouraged or reminded of this today, but don’t ever forget…Jesus is in the eye of your storm. He is your center, and it’s there you will find your peace. Find your center. Find your center and keep your gaze steadfast on your Master. Find your peace in Jesus’ Name. It’s “a peace that passes all understanding.”
My husband and I, along with our German neighbors, and military friends on nearby bases, have all been under a mandated “shelter at home” quarantine now, for over two months, due to an outbreak of the dreaded caronavirus. That, in itself, is not newsworthy, as this state of affairs spread rapidly to many other parts of the world, and at one time Europe was considered “ground zero.” I’m not sure what the status is now, as things are slowly beginning to open back up. However, I am endeavoring to document our experiences while here in this country, so I am making an attempt (albeit a rather feeble attempt) to reflect on these happenings, if for no other reason than to be able to look back, years from now, and have some kind of perspective.
I say “feeble attempt” because it is such an overwhelming topic, and I along with others, have grown weary of the daily news and even the mention of the word. Social media quickly reverted to jokes and lighthearted memes, even divisive political debate about what measures should be taken. I am just as guilty as the next person when it comes to enjoying a little comic relief, but can’t help feeling shame at the thought of laughing when I had friends in the hospital who had been infected and were on life support – multiply this scenario thousands of times throughout the world. The world reeled in agony, and many of us sat back and laughed? God help us. Don’t take me wrong. I’m not standing in judgment over anyone. I totally understand the old adage…sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. I experienced that roller coaster many times during the years I took care of my mother, whose mental and physical health were slowly ravaged by dementia.
I guess the hardest part for me to understand is how quickly the world panicked. It only took a week or so, after hearing about the rush on toilet paper in the US, before shelves here in Germany were wiped out as well…no pun intended. Why, everyone wonders? It is, after all, a respiratory virus, not a stomach flu. Once it hit the toilet paper aisle, other aisles quickly followed: meat, bread, flour, sugar, peanut butter and jelly, ramen noodles…ramen noodles? Seriously? There must be a lot of people out there who don’t like to cook. On second thought, that was the Commissary on base where a lot of single soldiers shop.
Well…this brings me to my topic, Kibrothhattaavah. Recently I was reading in the book of Numbers (not my favorite part of the Bible), so when I get to this part, I tend to skip and skim. I landed in chapter 11. The children of Israel had been delivered from slavery and bondage in Egypt, and had just experienced one of the most amazing miracles of God ever witnessed by man – the parting of the Red Sea. So, what was their response? Murmuring and complaining. God’s anger was kindled against them. He had delivered them from bondage and the mighty Egyptian army; He had fed them with heavenly manna (which they had hoarded), but that wasn’t good enough. They wanted meat!!!!! (Ah yes! That seems to be the on-going hot commodity lately, and meat counters continue to remain sparsely stocked.) God got so tired of their complaining, He decided to send them their meat…tons of meat! God said He would send them enough meat not for one or two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days. He sent them enough meat for a whole month, to the point He said it would come out of their nostrils and be loathsome to them. God sent a wind from the sea that brought quail and let them fall in the camp. According to my Bible commentary, the quail was stacked three feet deep around the camp, as far away as a day’s walk.
So, what did the people do? They HOARDED. (Evidently the temptation to hoard has been a common human trait since the beginning of time.) They gathered quail all day, all that night, and all the next day. The least any one person gathered was 10 ½ bushels of quail. There was a total of 6,720 quail to each of 3,000,000 people. There was a total of 2,520,000,000 gallons or 20,160,000,000 quail. (In my mind, I’m picturing the scene of all this quail in a desert environment without refrigeration, and thinking the stench would be unbearable.) Well, it was picnic time in the camp, but the story doesn’t end well.
While the quail flesh was still in their mouths, before they had even chewed, the Lord smote them with a very great plague. We are not told how many died, but the name of the place where they were buried was named Kibrothhattaavah – Graves of lust and greed.
In the New Testament we are taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer – a part of which is a request to the God of Heaven…Give us this day, our daily bread. Another core teaching of the New Testament is…Do not worry about tomorrow. In other words, be happy, satisfied and content with your provision for THIS DAY! This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Tomorrow will take care of itself, when you leave the control in God’s hands.
So, how will our story end? Pray for those in authority; our President, our governors, our mayors, that God give them great wisdom. Pray for our business leaders as they struggle to get our sinking economy up and running again. Let us continue to pray and have compassion over the sick. Continue to pray for healthcare providers and those working exhausting days and nights to provide for our basic needs.
Remember, life is 10 % what happens to you, and 90 % how you respond. May God help us not to fall into the trap of grumbling and complaining and hoarding, and find “Kibrothhattaavah” engraved on our tombstone.
IKEA is a global company known for its ready-to-assemble DIY “flat pack” furniture, the innovation of its Swedish founder Ingrar Kamprad – from which IKEA gets its first two letters – the last two initials representing the two places where he grew up. (I didn’t know this, and found it to be an interesting little tidbit of information.) I also found it interesting that Kamprad began his business career at the age of five when he started selling matches to neighbors. Eventually, he began to sell other items that ranged from seeds, to fish, to Christmas décor. I’m fascinated with the stories of entrepreneurs that start out selling some small item from their garage and end up making it big in the world!
My husband Steve and I had shopped at an IKEA in Bloomington, Minnesota, but I don’t think that properly prepared us for our experience in Nuremberg, Germany. Before leaving on our adventure, I searched the internet to see if I might be able to find some time-saving tips. I thought that might be helpful as I was traveling with a non-shopper. I did find a few comments that made me feel a little uneasy:
“IKEA is one of those places that can save you a ton of money on home décor and furnishings if you make the most of it…or, it can make you lose your religion. Having a plan insures a successful visit.”
“You can always count on seeing couples fighting at IKEA. Be prepared for a breakup.”
“You haven’t really experienced shopping in Germany until you have gone to IKEA. It almost feels like you’re a mouse in a science project and you can’t get out once you get in.”
Steve and I had a plan. We wanted to pick up a nice desk/work table for my office. That was pretty much it. Simple plan. The other part of the plan was to leave immediately after his Christmas office party to head to Nuremberg. It is this experience that inspired me to share a list of tips with any other prospective shoppers out there planning a visit to IKEA.
#1. Under no circumstances, EVER, shop at an IKEA in Germany on a Saturday! (Maybe not an IKEA anywhere!)
#2. Under no circumstances, EVER, shop at an IKEA during the Christmas season! (If you do find yourself combining #1 and #2, you COULD very possibly lose your religion and your marriage – as previously warned.)
#3. Review #1 and #2
#4. While your husband is parking the car in the last spot, of the far corner of the back 40, don’t bother wasting your time trying to study the large layout map at the entry of the store thinking you’ll gain any advantage. You’re going to run into words that look like kleideraufbewahrung, schneidebretter, and zeitschrifensammler. Better to spend your time scouting out where the restrooms are.
#5. While you’re still waiting on your husband who is finding his way through the maze of thousands of cars, and a Christmas-tree throwing contest, don’t bother grabbing a shopping cart, thinking that will give you any kind of advantage. You won’t be able to get it up the escalator.
#6. Once you relocate your husband and head up the escalator without a shopping cart, don’t think you’re being smart to grab another abandoned cart in the far corner when you reach the next level. No one, and I mean NO ONE else was pushing their cart through the throngs of people, except us! We grabbed a few small items to place in our cart just so it didn’t look foolishly empty. The first floor is mainly a showroom area arranged in attractive layouts. If you find an item of interest, jot down the number. You’ll need this later.
#7. If a small, panicky child comes running up to you with imploring eyes, crying “Mama! Mama!” – do not try to console the child in English as it will only make matters worse. Flag down the nearest store clerk. When she looks at you with a blank expression as you’re trying to explain in English that said child is lost, just point to the child and say, “Mama! Mama!” She’ll catch on quickly.
#8. Do not under any circumstances pick a lost child up in your arms and try to console them. When the distressed parents come running and see you holding their child, they might think you were trying to kidnap them. (I played it smart and resisted the urge.)
#9. When you are finished with your shopping and ready to pick up your selected furniture, you must stop at one of the computer kiosks and look up your item. When you are staring blankly at a screen full of German instructions, you just wait until you hear someone walking behind you who is speaking English, then you kindly grab them and ask for help. They will also be kind enough to tell you to take your information to the lady standing under the blue sign.
#10. When the blue-sign lady starts speaking to you in German and you don’t understand, try a different language you might know, such as Spanish. My husband tried this, and it worked! This young lady actually understood a little Spanish! Europeans are multi-lingual. So, if you do speak another language, it’s worth a try. Spanish is actually quite helpful in Italy.
#11. When you have finished your shopping, don’t just automatically make a bee-line for the shortest check-out line. It’s probably going to be the express lane, and you may have too many items to qualify. Fortunately for me, my observant husband had already found an appropriate line. Unfortunately, I had inadvertently cut a man off in the express lane and received a tongue-lashing in German. The nice thing was, I didn’t understand a word. He had a cart piled to the ceiling with flat-pack boxes. It was kind of fun to watch him when he, too, realized he was in the express lane and had to go looking for another line. This is not easy to do when there are five lanes with hundreds of people, and you’re pushing a cart with enough boxes to build an entire house.
#12. Resist the urge to stock up on cookies while you’re waiting in line. Once you get through the line (an hour later) there is still more shopping on the other side. There is a nice little mini-mart with a better selection of cookies, along with juices, cheese, sausages, and all kinds of jams and jellies. I am told the IKEA ginger snaps are a favorite. That will have to be on my list for the next trip.
#13. While in Germany, you need to take your own shopping bags – even in the grocery stores. While in line at IKEA, decide if you need to pick up one of their super-sized, inexpensive shopping bags. This may make it easier for transferring items into your car, and later when you arrive home.
#14. At this point, you’re still not finished with your IKEA shopping experience. It’s now time to go get a number and wait in line at Customer Service to submit your VAT form (Value Added Tax.) My husband estimated that we would be saving forty dollars by submitting our form. I was beginning to wonder if it was worth the forty dollars to have to stand in line for another hour to hour and a half. IKEA provides a very nice waiting area with comfy seats and even some foosball set up for your personal entertainment. However, when you are shopping on a Saturday during the Christmas season, you will not be anywhere near a comfy seat. There were hundreds of people milling around, and our number wasn’t anywhere close to the number being flashed on the screen as “next.”
#14. If you are lucky, really lucky, as we were – you’ll meet a nice American family while you’re waiting and enjoy a friendly visit. They blessed us with an extra number tag they had that saved us about a 40-minute wait in line. Later we found out…they’re assigned to the same military base where we are located, and within a few days, we met up again just like we were old friends!
Well, hopefully these tips will be helpful to anyone planning an upcoming visit to IKEA. When I was doing my internet search, I read that when IKEA first opened their store in Shanghai, China – 80,000 customers showed up! I wouldn’t be surprised if our visit to Nuremberg topped that record. Just joking, of course, but maybe not. One small glitch. When we got home with my desk/work table, my husband decided he liked it so well, he wanted one for his office, as well. So, we had to plan another visit to IKEA. This time we decided to play it smart. We decided to try out the IKEA in Regensburg, which is a little smaller store. We also shopped on a Monday. Well…it was WUNDERBAR! We were able to park close, managed to get to the café for a lunch of Swedish meatballs and potatoes, and even got a table by the big window with a “scenic view” of the Autobahn! (This would not have happened in Nuremberg. We wouldn’t have even been able to locate the cafe for the crowd.)
And my desk/worktable? We couldn’t find another one just like it, so my husband took mine! I didn’t mind, though. I got one bigger and better! I must say, IKEA furniture is good, solidly built furniture, and we are very pleased.
One last tip…
#15. Make sure your husband is handy, as mine is, at putting furniture together!
The power of the word is real whether or not you are conscious of it.
Behind every word flows energy.
– Sonia Choquette
Think back over your life. What words have defined you? What words have you ALLOWED to define you? I know children whose parents have told them they were “a mistake.” Do you think that child is capable of ever forgetting those words? Then there are others who’ve been told, “You’re a mess; you’ll never amount to anything in life; you’re not smart enough; you’re not good enough; you’re ugly; you’re dumb; why aren’t you as beautiful and talented as your sister”…and the list goes on. Those words are hard to forget – they leave a scar. They haunt you for life.
Someone once told me she wished she had just a fingertip of my artistic talent. I reminded her that all it takes is the desire, and it sounded to me like she had that. She replied that she had been told by her parents that she didn’t have any artistic talent at all. For years she had accepted those words spoken over her. I talked her into signing up for oil painting classes, and she produced amazing paintings that now grace the walls of her home, but she wasted some beautiful, creative years to get to that point.
In thinking over some of the “defining words of life,” I decided to come up with a list of some of the power players, and then turned the list into a play. Maybe you’ll recognize yourself as one of the main actors. This is literally a WORD PLAY. I’ve entitled the play:
We’re all players on this stage of life. In which scene do you find yourself? I hope you’re allowing the energy of positive, affirming, God-inspired words to flow through your life.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1
Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:3
He sent forth his word and healed them. Psalm 107:20
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Genesis 1:3
The very breath that God used to speak forth the creation of the world, and bring light out of darkness, is the same breath He breathed into you to speak forth your words. They can be creative, illuminating, life-giving words, or they can be dark, haunting, destructive words. The power is yours; choose wisely…and remember… “Men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37