Waterfall Shopping

Monday, May 30, 2011

I shop for waterfalls like some women shop for clothes. Since I live in the Chicago area, Bloomingdale's, Macy's, and Nordstrom aren't novelties.

Waterfalls are.

So when I was in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina several weeks ago, I went waterfall shopping. With my camera as currency and photographs as merchandise, my shopping trip was successful and satisfying. Except that I didn't bargain for the sunburn I also picked up.

Joyce Kilmer said:

          I think that I shall never see
          A poem lovely as a tree.

          . . . .

          Poems are made by fools like me,
          But only God can make a tree.

I feel the same way about waterfalls.

I'm awestruck by God's creation. Man can plant trees, but only God can make them grow. Man can build miniature waterfalls in parks or back yards, but the gravity that makes them work comes from God. And the large, awesome waterfalls like the ones I saw in the Blue Ridge Mountains would be unmanageable and expensive for man to build. Not so for God.

My shopping trip started at Yellowstone Falls in Graveyard Fields, where I made a new friend. We hiked first to the Lower Falls and then to the Upper Falls.

From there I went to Looking Glass Falls, which is a mere 60 feet high. But the rocky mountain setting is totally awe-inspiring. That's Looking Glass Falls in the photo at the top of this post.

Then I went to Hickory Nut Falls and travelled quite a ways to get there, only to find that I would have to travel even farther to see it up close and personal. Since I would have missed the beginning of my conference, I chose not to continue on. I did, however, get a glimpse of the 400-foot waterfall high up in the mountains. I used a telephoto lens to take this picture.

But no picture can truly express the wonders of God's creation. You have to be there.

That's why I go waterfall shopping.

The Parable of the Hikers

Monday, May 23, 2011

A pair of hikers was walking along a mountain path when a faint "help" drifted up from down below. "Did you hear something?" one of the hikers asked. "No," said the other. So they kept walking.

Ten minutes later, another hiker passed by. He heard a cry for help and glanced over the side, where he saw a teenager sitting on a ledge, crying. The hiker stepped back from the edge before the girl could see him. He adjusted the rope he carried over his shoulder and looked at his watch. Late. So he kept walking.

Another hour passed before a middle-aged man came by, panting and wiping his brow. Hearing a moan, he dropped to his stomach and crept up to the edge of the cliff. When he saw the girl, he cupped his hands. "I'll get a rope and come back." Then he stood up and left.

After forty more minutes, a young woman came along and heard a whimper from below. She also dropped to her stomach and crept to the edge. "What happened?" she asked.

"I got too close and slid down here. Now I can't get back up."

"Does anyone know you're there?"

"Some old man said he was going for a rope, but that was a long time ago. I don't think he's coming back. And even if he does, what if the rope breaks while I'm trying to get back to the top?" The girl started crying again. "I feel so alone."

The woman studied the ledge and thought a moment. "I can't save you without help, but I can comfort you and keep you from feeling alone." Then she looked around until she saw the slide the teenager made on her way down. "There's room for two on that ledge, so I'll join you."

But as she slid down, the woman discovered she couldn't control her speed. She barreled into the girl and sent her into the ravine far below.

When the man returned with the rope and another helper, he crawled to the edge and looked down. Wrinkling his brow, he said, "I'm back, but I thought you were younger."

Tears streamed down the woman's cheeks. "The girl you saw is gone."

"I'm sorry." The man fed the rope over the edge. "At least we can get you out of there."

The woman shook her head. "I don't deserve it."

"None of us do. But since we're here, let's bring you back up."

* * * * *

What does compassion really mean? Is it sympathizing with others, or is it rescuing them from danger? I believe it is the second.

I grew up in the United Presbyterian Church, which eventually morphed into the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). That denomination recently amended its constitution to remove the prohibition against ordaining practicing homosexuals.

I'll be the first to admit that all Christians are fallible and none have a perfect understanding of the Bible. But passages like Romans 1:26-27 say that same-sex relations are a perversion of God's plans, and there are no exceptions noted. Who are we to add what isn't there?

Even so, I'm not aiming this post at Christians who sincerely believe that homosexual relations are not sinful. Instead, my intended audience is those Christians who have a nagging doubt but think that accepting a sinful lifestyle is a more caring response than rescuing people from it.

I want all sinners to feel welcome in my church. After all, I'm one of them. And if we banned sinners from the pulpit, there'd be no one there.

Still, my job as a Christian is to warn people about sin, not to make them comfortable with it. Removing prohibitions on ordaining practicing homosexuals says, "It's okay." And I'm convinced that it isn't.

Yes, my position may leave someone alone and uncomforted for a while, and she might not believe that I'll return with a rope or that the rope will hold when I do. I can't force anyone to believe that. But isn't it better for someone to live with temporary hopelessness followed by rescue than it is to make the hopelessness permanent? Especially when it could be the difference between life and death.

In Acts 26:18, Paul reports these words Jesus said during Paul's conversion: "I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." (ESV) It's a good description of our job, too.

That's why I'd rather be compassionate than sympathetic.

Searching for Mr. Right

Monday, May 16, 2011

Roland and I celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary on Thursday. Actually, we celebrated apart, because I was at a writers' conference in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. But our marriage survived the ill-timed separation.

A marriage that almost didn't happen. Although I wanted a husband, I wasn't actively seeking. Part of it was that I didn't know how or where to look. But I also trusted that God would make it happen when the time was right even if I did nothing.

A simple sermon eliminated both excuses.

Have you heard the saying, "God helps them that help themselves"? If you think it comes from the Bible, you're wrong. The proverb dates back to only the 15th or 16th century. But even though it isn't in the Bible, there is some Christian truth in it. In 2 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul says: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." And how many of us think God wants us to sit back and wait for a job without even sending out resumes?

Still, I would rephrase the proverb this way: God wants us to be active participants in His plans for us.

That was the message in the sermon, and the minister used finding a mate as an example. He was a counselor for a computer dating service that catered to Christians and Jews, but many people failed to make use of the service because they expected God to handle everything.

That sermon was my wake-up call. I signed up for the computer dating service and met Roland. He was my second match, and I was his second match. But there is nothing second-class about our marriage.

Thirty-two years of wedded bliss (and a few bumps) that almost didn't happen.

So if you are searching for Mr. or Ms. Right, don't just sit back and wait. Be an active participant in God's plans for you.

Even if His plans turn out to be different from yours.

Her Mother's Daughter

Monday, May 9, 2011

Several weeks ago I wrote about my son and his father in "His Father's Son." I mentioned that my daughter was her mother's daughter but said I would leave that discussion for another day.

This is another day.

However, this post covers three people rather than two. Not only is my daughter, Caroline, her mother's daughter, but I'm my mother's daughter, too. Three generations sharing the same traits and interests.

First, we are all dedicated Christians. In fact, both my mother and my daughter are minister's wives. I'm glad that distinction skipped a generation, though. It was bad enough being a minister's daughter.

Second, we are three determined women with a strong work ethic.

My mother had a stroke in March. Not a major one, but it weakened her right side and put her in a wheel chair. At 91, she is determined to regain as much mobility as possible and walks a little farther each day.

I went to law school at night while working full-time. The evening program was designed to take four years instead of the three for the full-time day program, and I did it in three-and-a-half.

Caroline lives on the Mississippi River in Southern Illinois. Their house is on higher ground, so although they had puddles in their backyard and a little water in the crawl space from the constant rain, they didn't have to worry about the recent flood waters. At home, that is. Caroline's thirty-minute commute to the school where she teaches became substantially longer when the only direct route was under water, but she didn't even consider calling off. She threw a sleeping bag, a change of clothes, and some toiletries in her car and went to work. As far as I know she never had to stay overnight, but she was ready if need be.

Then there is music. My mother taught choral music at the beginning of her teaching career and directed church choirs for much of her adult life. Although she stopped playing in the bell choir a year or two ago, she sang in two choirs right up until she had her stroke. She also played piano well enough to sub for Sunday school and church in a pinch.

I love music, too. I read music and play the piano a little, although not well enough to accompany anyone, and I have sung in choirs most of my life. I also played violin in my later high school and early college years.

Like her grandmother, Caroline plays in a bell choir. Like the two generations before her, she loves to sing and always finds a choir to join. Caroline also plays guitar and piano and has learned the fundamentals of flute and ukulele.

When Caroline was born, I was disappointed that she shared none of my physical characteristics. Her hair, eye color, height, shoe size, and blood type all came from her father. But as she grew older, I discovered that she shared my smile, personality, and interests. Mine, and my mother's.

Because Caroline is her mother's daughter, and I am my mother's daughter, too.

Lessons From the Royal Wedding

Monday, May 2, 2011

Okay, I admit it. I watched the royal wedding. No, I didn't get up early to see it as it happened, but I did watch a replay that night.

And yes, I thought it was cool. However, it wasn't the dress or the ceremonial details that made it special. Here are two things that did.

The service began with these words regarding marriage:

First, It was ordained for the increase of mankind according to the will of God, and that children might be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy name.
Secondly, It was ordained in order that the natural instincts and affections, implanted by God, should be hallowed and directed aright; that those who are called of God to this holy estate, should continue therein in pureness of living.
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.*
What a wonderful definition of marriage as God planned it. Those words also describe my marriage, my parents' marriage, and other good marriages I have observed.

Second, this marriage appears to be founded on love. It shone out of William's and Kate's eyes when they looked at each other.

That's the biggest difference between this wedding and the one that joined Charles and Diana. That was duty. This is love.

Kate will face many of the same pressures Diana did, but, if I read it right, Kate will face them with a loving and supportive husband at her side.

And that could make all the difference.

* "Alternative Service, Series One," from the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer.